Academic moonlighting or survival of the fittest?

Author, Misaki Wayengera. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

Should it then surprise us that the ranking of Makerere University is on a downward spiral?

In the olden days, professors at Makerere University were so engrossed in their service ( teaching, doing research, and of course, serving the community) that they barely had time to engage in any other extracurricular activities, except of course, when these activities involved raising the elbows ( drinking alcohol) or merry-making (partying).

This does not mean that they earned enough to cater to all their or families’ needs and requirements. Nonetheless, the professor, like a worker bee or ant, was so committed to his or her cause that almost nothing; not even the fear of poverty and lack, could derail them.

This was possible at the time; because professors and many other civil servants could afford to comfortably take care of most of their day-to-day needs, solely by their pay cheque.

First forward to the 21st century and every one of the professors at the Ivory Tower is scampering to do something out of the lecturer rooms and laboratories; to gain an extra income. This is largely attributable to the growing inflation, and inability of the government pay cheque to cater for all their needs. For this flexibility or resourcefulness, nonetheless, all professors must be lauded, as it must be hard work for an academic to become so ingenious and enterprising; particularly since many have ventured in activities far from their expertise and yet still become quite successful at whatever extra income generating activity they undertake.

Should it then surprise us that the ranking of Makerere University is on a downward spiral? When and where do these professors get the time to think, read, do research and create new knowledge, unless of course the same is being done for money; since only but a minority have stuck in their research and consultancy endeavours as the extra incoming generating activity?  It is the misconception among many that government salaried officers receive allowances for things like fuel; not as a professor.

When in the early 2000s, the academic staff of Makerere University pressured the President to increase their salaries to meet the skyrocketing standard of living , his excellency authorised them to consider engaging in extra income-generating activities by symbolically instructing them to go and rear goats. It is of course impressive, that for an academic whose referenced ‘goat rearing’ should be proxy to their talent, most have gone ahead to take the President literally and indeed established goat farms; even when they are not agriculturalists or veterinarians. Intriguingly, many have become quite successful at what they do.

And yet the big question that remains for all of us is, at what cost is all this being done? Who remains behind at Makerere University after work hours; to think for this country, and pursue the hard, largely unpaid work of resolving the other unaddressed problems of this country and humanity at large.

It therefore remains a strategic priority for government to ensure that its professors and technologists are paid enough to remain in the lecturer rooms and laboratories and do for the country and its citizens what only they can do.

That is why the government should be applauded for taking the bold step to raise the professor’s salary. Unknown or deliberate to the planning and implementing technocrats, however, is that a professorship at the university does not only constitute in the accolade, but the act of teaching and mentoring one engages in, such that even a teaching assistant is relevant to the cause and deserves a similar raise of pay, given the commonality of the market he or she purchases from, with that of the professor.

Dr Misaki Wayengera MD, PhD Senior Lecturer College of Health Sciences