Overloaded Faculty in East Africa

The latest Journal of International and Intercultural Communication is out with an interesting article that looks at the factors that contribute to a lack of research and publication activities by scholars working at universities in East Africa. In “Research and Publication by Communication Faculty in East Africa: A Challenge to the Global Community of Communication Scholars” Ann Neville Miller, Mary N. Kizito, and Kyalo wa Ngula use surveys and interviews with faculty, department heads and librarians to try to understand why there is so little research coming from scholars working at schools in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. While there are a number of factors at play, one of the largest is the financial strain these faculty members endure. Many scholars would be interested in doing their own research, but they are too busy supplementing their incomes by picking up extra classes at other universities or working on nonacademic research projects. The authors argue there are reasons to believe that institutions are starting to encourage faculty to conduct more independent research and trying to make it possible for faculty to do so, but the results of these changes remain to be seen.

While Miller is currently on the faculty at University of Central Florida, she previously worked at Daystar University in Nairobi, where Kizito and wa Ngula are both employed. I also have a Daystar connection, as they provided my research affiliation while I was doing my dissertation fieldwork in Kenya. So this article got me thinking…

A few years ago, I attended a conference at which a senior faculty member who was experienced in international fieldwork stated that one of the best ways for American researchers to reciprocate is through assisting local faculty in their university responsibilities. In particular, she suggested helping out with their teaching loads, so the “relieved” faculty could have more time to pursue their own research. Creating openings for scholars in majority world countries to conduct their own research obviously helps those directly involved, but it also benefits the discipline as a whole.

I thought this was a great idea, and it became something I hoped to do in my own work. But as you can read here and here, clearing the administrative hurdles for conducting research in Kenya is no easy task. Initially, I tried to secure a research affiliation through the University of Nairobi. It’s one of the two large universities in Nairobi, and the faculty I spoke with seemed very interested in establishing a research connection with me. But the problem wasn’t a lack of interest. The faculty had to get the affiliation approved by the faculty senate. And no one seemed to know when the faculty senate might meet again. After several visits, phone calls, and emails it became clear that interest was not going to materialize into an actual affiliation.

Luckily things went much more smoothly at Daystar. One benefit of a small college is they don’t have to deal with the same levels of bureaucracy as a large university. After initially tracking down the department chair, we were able to meet with administrators right away to secure the affiliation, and the department chair became very interested in having me teach a course when I returned for my 7-month trip.

They were interested. I was interested. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately there were a few problems. First, Daystar is a Christian university, and it is important for them that their faculty members share certain tenants of the Christian faith. When I returned to Kenya, there was a new upper-level administrator I had to meet with, and it quickly became clear that he was uncomfortable with the fact that my beliefs did not align with those of the school. I can understand this. But also, the timing was off. My arrival in Kenya was right around the Christmas holiday, so it was mid-January before I was able to meet with anyone from Daystar about possibly teaching a course. By the time I could meet with the chair and administrator, it was just days before the start of the semester. So even though the chair was pushing to have me take a class, it was just too difficult to fit in the schedule, and the administrator decided to pass.

Instead, the chair suggested that I come in for a series of guest lectures in different courses where I had a certain amount of expertise. This seemed like the best possible arrangement for everyone.

But I never did a single guest lecture at Daystar. What happened? For one, the chair told me he would contact me in a few weeks to set up some dates for me to guest lecture, but this never happened. I tried emailing him, but I never heard back.

Ultimately, the problem was that the chair was incredibly busy, and I was not persistent enough. Every time I met with the chair, we had really interesting discussions. But to be able to meet with him I often just showed up campus in the hopes that I would catch him. And even when he was on campus, I usually had to wait 30-60 minutes for him to be free. Then when we were meeting, he would regularly have students and faculty come by with things for him to do. He was just a really busy guy. Because of that, he struggled with returning emails and phone calls. So he never contacted me to set something up.

For my part, I should have kept on him with the same tenacity as I had before. Instead, I waited for him to take the lead, I got caught up in my own research, and before I knew it, it was too late to really do anything at Daystar.

So after reading this article, I was reminded of this missed opportunity. My experience supports Miller, Kizito, & wa Ngula’s finding that faculty at these universities are overloaded and preoccupied. In retrospect, I just wish I had done more to lighten that load.

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