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Story in the Daily Times

31 May 2011
by

I am a primary character in a news story in Malawi entitled “Move to strip Peter of professorship.”

First, let me say that the story is misleading and inaccurate. It is written with the belief that I wrote an email to garner interest in the idea that Peter Mutharika, brother of Malawi’s president, should lose his professorship at Washington University in St. Louis. I forwarded the email to colleagues on a Malawi/Penn listserv, but I did not write it. In fact, when the reporter was writing the story, s/he emailed me and in my prompt reply, I said exactly that. The email was originally written by a senior colleague of mine at another university (neither of which I now feel comfortable naming without his/her expressed consent).

Now I’m worried about some pending research plans I have in Malawi…

Here is the full story:

An Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University in the United States (US) is circulating a proposal urging fellow academicians to lobby for the suspension of Minister of Education Science and Technology Peter wa Mutharika from the position of honorific professorship for being part of governmentʼs failure to assure academic freedom.
The professorship was bestowed on Mutharika by the Law School at Washington University of St. Louis.
Assistant Professor Kim Yi Dionne is calling on other academicians for solidarity intervention in the protracted impasse between government and lecturers from Chancellor College (Chanco) and the Malawi Polytechnic (Poly) on academic freedom and other governance issues.
Dionne argued that Mutharika should be suspended for being an agent in trampling on academic freedom.
“I have been watching the governance picture in Malawi for the past six months or so, and I am becoming increasingly distressed at the way things are going.
“As some of you may be aware, there has been a serious effort by the Mutharika administration to curtail civic and political rights and undermine mechanisms of accountability in the country. This has included a frontal assault on academic freedom,” he writes.
The correspondence argue that Mutharika being Minister of Education and a Charles Nagel Professor of Comparative and International Law at Washington University is painting a bad picture to the profession by failing to either stamp his authority in assurance of academic freedom or being part of government failure to assure a fundamental education right.
“My thought is to call attention to this with the administration,
faculty, and alumni of Washington University essentially asking them to consider why their institution continues to bestow an honorific professorship on someone who is trampling on academic and civic freedoms.
“One thought is that we start with a letter to the Law School
administration bringing their attention to this and asking them to consider suspending the professorship. This should also be sent to the head of the Law School alumni association, “it suggests.
Chanco and Poly lecturers started class boycott pressing for academic freedom over one hundred days ago.
The boycott started after their colleague Blessing Chinsinga of the Political Science Department at Chanco was summoned for questioning by Police Inspector General Peter Mukhitho for an example he had cited during a lecture.
Peter Mutharika is on record as having said his ministry is only observing the situation as it “had not reached a critical stage.”
Mutharika could not be reached for comment while his Personal Assistant Ben Phiri said he could not comment on the issue as they were unaware of the move.
“I cannot comment on something I have not seen. And what if he is someone just claiming to be a Professor when he is not? Let us first see how true it is,” he said.

UPDATE 6/1/11: Nyasa Times has now printed the story with me as the mastermind as well:

Peter Mutharika risks losing academic title

By NYASA TIMES

Published: June 1, 2011

Malawi’s Education Minister, Professor Peter Mutharika, risks losing his honorific professorship which was bestowed on him by the Law School at Washington University of St. Louis for his failure to protect academic freedom in the country.

The campaign to have Mutharika lose the honour is propelled by an assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University in the United States of America Kim Yi Dionne.

According to the Daily Times of Tuesday, Dionne is circulating a proposal urging fellow academicians to lobby for the suspension of Mutharika from his position of the professorship.

Dionne argues that Mutharika is painting a bad picture to the profession by failing to either stamp his authority in assurance of academic freedom or being part of government to assure a fundamental education right.

“My thought is to call attention to this with the administration, faculty, and alumni of Washington University essentially asking them to consider why their institution continue to bestow an honorific professorship on someone who is trampling on academic and civic freedoms,” Dionne was quoted in the paper.

Mutharika’s personal assistant Ben Phiri said they would comment after seeing the circular.

Government closed down Chancellor College and the Polytechnic after failing to assure the University of Malawi that it will respect academic freedom.

The two colleges are demanding their academic freedom which they say is under threat following the summoning of one lecturer Dr. Blessings Chinsinga over an example he gave in class.

Chinsinga said the frequent fuel shortages in Malawi could be one of the causes for mass protest as were conducted in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Bunda College has expelled some students who took part in the demonstration at Chancellor College on Friday last week.

The march was organised by lecturers in demand for academic freedom.—(Reporting by Judith Moyo, Nyasa Times)

I know they have Google in Malawi… does Judith Moyo know that?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter VonDoepp permalink
    31 May 2011 7:24 am

    Kim – as the author of the letter, I am sorry this has landed on you. It’s indeed odd that I was not named as the email you forwarded clearly has my name at the conclusion of the letter. I’m happy to advertise my authorship; and please feel forward to forward any questions to me.

    Best,

    Peter VonDoepp

    • 31 May 2011 1:02 pm

      Thanks, Peter, for taking the heat. The Daily Times has updated the story (substituting my name with yours).

      Mostly, I’m hopeful for a time when we won’t have to worry about whether our affiliation to the idea of academic freedom could potentially harm our ability to conduct research in Malawi.

  2. 31 May 2011 7:36 am

    I wrote the reporter expressing my disappointment at his/her misleading reporting, and this was his/her response:

    I too am disappointed for the lapse in professionalism I have shown because I had presented the draft of the story in the morning before I sent you that mail. I did not check my mail untill i left work in the evening and saw your response but it was very late after news had already been printed.

    I hope the damage is reparable. I am really sorry, very sorry.

  3. 31 May 2011 12:52 pm

    Oh, gosh, guys, I’m so sorry. Kim and Peter, let us know if there’s anything we can do to rally people behind you.

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