Varsity students back to class as lecturers’ strike fizzles out

But only University of Nairobi and TUK dons heed calls by their managements to go back to study halls

Wangui Githugo and Peter Leshan 

Students turn-out in public universities remained low last week even as most of the striking lecturers reported back for the second semester following sack threats from administrators.

Among the 32 public universities and constituent colleges, only the University of Nairobi (UON) and Technical University of Kenya (TUK) lecturers seemed to have heeded the call by their managements to go back to lecture halls after most of them signed commitment forms last week.

The development comes in the wake of a recent meeting of council of chairpersons of the 31 public learning institutions in the country under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed. The council resolved to direct vice chancellors to immediately issue “show cause” letters to the striking lecturers to pave way for interdiction of those who have defied orders to resume work.

At Maasai Mara University in Narok County, part time lecturers have kept learning going since their full time colleagues went on strike two months ago. The institution’s management, which previously refused to pay part timers earnings running to millions of shillings, sweet-talked them to keep academic programmes on course.

The Maasai Mara Senate recently threatened to sack the striking lecturers if they failed to resume work but backtracked after their union intervened. “Everything is on course. Learning is continuing,” said David Muntet, the university administrator.

Students at the Kenyatta University (KU) have also been instructed to report back to class today after their lecturers signed commitment letters to resume teaching. In a statement, Deputy Vice Chancellor John Okumu said academic activities will resume and be completed as planned.

Speaking on phone to different Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) chapter secretaries, however, People Daily established that the striking lecturers from other than Nairobi and TUK universities have so far remained defiant.

UON UASU chapter secretary George Omondi said while some students have reported back to class and are being taught, the UON lecturers remain thoroughly unhappy with the move by the management to intimidate them during industrial strikes.

He said UoN lecturers were forced to report back due to “financial weaknesses” that they would face upon if sacked.“This university is buried in politics because we do not understand why lecturers have been pushed to the wall yet it is national strike. The management should have gone through the union which called on the strike,” regretted Omondi.

TUK Director of Communication Ken Ramani said that over 90 per cent of lecturers had reported back to work following the university’s senate resolution on Monday, despite low turnout of students. “The lecturers’ turnout is impressive but only a few classes took place because most students have had to make travel plans as Labour Day celebrations could have led to delays,” said Dr Ramani.

Earlier, Prof Joseph Kiplang’at, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Administration and Planning, had said in a memo to students: “It has emerged that an overwhelming number of staff are willing and ready to continue discharging their duties”.

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) chairman Muiga Rugara said that the management had on Wednesday last week called all the lecturers for a meeting to plead them to report back to work but it did not take place as most of them snubbed it.

He said they would not be responsive until the 2017/2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated and signed. His counterpart, Multi-Media University (MMU) counterpart Onesmus Maluki on the other hand said the management and lecturers held a meeting held last week but the dons made it clear that they had no mandate to call off a national strike despite their salaries being withheld. 

The union’s top leadership has maintained that the strike is legal and that dons will not be deterred from fighting for their democratic rights. “We refused to sign the commitment letters and we will not be intimidated,” said Maluki. 

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