THE SPEECHES OF A UNIVERSITY DEAN BY REV. FR (PROF) B.A.C. OBIEFUNA
Deanship is an elective post in a university. The person, Dean, who occupies this post is a midpoint between the Vice-Chancellor and the Departments though elected by the teaching staff of the concerned Faculty. As the university is organized in the like of a three-tier governance structure – National, State and Local, he is answerable to the Vice-Chancellor (President) of the university but in control of the Heads of Departments (Local Government Chairmen) as the Governor. This may not be the best analogy especially for those obsessed with the pride of the academia. Yet, pride is not all vice since pride also cushions healthy ambition and creativity. Be that as it may, the Latin says, anologiaclaudicat, analogy limps. What you have in your hand is an articulation of my tiny contributions as the Dean of the very noble family of the Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
On October 7, 2014, I was unanimously elected the Dean of the Faculty of Arts. The event was interesting and glorious as the staff gave me hundred percent vote. There was no dissenting vote; and no invalid vote. To the best of my knowledge, such never happened in the history of the university and has not happened since then. I thank all the staff that strongly suggested I declared interest. The suggestions came from all ranks of the staff. The suggestion of one staff that rarely talked “freely” caught me off guard. The spirits had spoken! But, my interest has never been in vying for any post on campus (could be the opposite now). After much prayer and reflection on issues on ground, I took the hard decision to present myself for the deanship. With this decision, I met every Professor in the Faculty, some of whom already suggested I declared interest. To my surprise but with sincere gratitude, all of them gave me their word for support. It was joy and dance from the other ranks that I informed of my interest. All promises of support played out on the voting day. I remain ever grateful to every member of the teaching staff of the Faculty of Arts for reposing such confidence in me. Prudence would not allow me to single out some people for selective appreciation. I thank all for making the Faculty have that history of hundred percent vote in deanship election. It takes time and conscious effort to build and attract such confidence for such a history.
The Office of the Dean is very challenging. The Dean must be alert in the Spirit to always differentiate the good, the bad and the ugly. There is need for the gift of discernment. Things are not always what they seem. Humans have many faces of interaction especially when it comes to pursuing personal interests, much of which could be adjudged selfish. The deanship is a school to experience in real life the saying that all that glitters is not gold. I may not be different as I am not that proud to declare myself exceptionally innocent! In the Deanship School, the Dean, as a go-between of the university administration and the specific Faculty (the staff – teaching and non-teaching – and the students), learns that humans can be innocent in the morning, suspicious in the afternoon, and proven criminal in the evening. I thank God that I did not have the evening experience as a dean!
At my assumption of office, I prayed God to make me an instrument of peace, in the light of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. There was need to have the teaching and non-teaching staff to, at times, come together as members of one family as a Faculty. There was need to give the students a sense belonging at their Induction and give proximate preparations to the Final Year students to face the challenges of life after school. Services like water and light are not only for the Dean’s office and only when the Dean is there. There was need to save the students the agony of borderline scores and the trauma of spending extra year or years because of one outstanding course. In some cases, it would be one particular course holding a student for years. Though not as many as in some other Faculties within and outside the university, the situation cannot be denied. Promotions of staff were at the platform of justice. This is without prejudice to sometimes baseless counterviews. Promotions are not on benefice. As a matter of fact, the “planting” in my last exercise of promotions in 2016 was the “harvest” of Professors and Readers in 2017. Faculty Committees were visibly supported. Welfare was taken seriously. Check-off at base was achieved for Welfare and Annual Conferences. In my tenure, decency in dressing and cleanliness of the environment was absolutely not compromised. So was preaching and praying during class hours as there is time for everything. I had an open-door policy for staff and students. All these and more notwithstanding, I cannot claim three hundred and sixty degrees success.
Deanship has its challenges. It would be over audacious and presumptuous to believe that hundred percent vote would be hundred percent loyalty. The Dean is not expected to be a toy to be manipulated at people’s caprices. It is part of a Dean’s responsibility to control his/her emotions in the face of sinister comments. Conflicts must arise. And conflicts must be managed. So, they were.
As such, I appreciate those who deliberately attempted to derail the progress of the Faculty. I thank those who sent me threatening text messages and made harassing phone calls after the election that signaled the end of my tenure; to hand over immediately after the election even as the university administration directed on the date for handover rituals; that other Faculties had long handed over (which was completely not true); to ensure that enough money was left for my successor; warned against any elaborately planned handover ceremony; and, surprisingly, told the Vice – Chancellor on the very day of commissioning (may be they did that before) that the Monument of Fulfilment which I donated to the Faculty, and by extension, the university, should be relocated from its present position. By the grace of God and prudent management of resources, huge sum of money was handed over and not a dime of Faculty money was spent at the handover on the Solemnity of All Saints, November I, 2016. This is even as all the offices in the new building received attention and collapsible seats for students installed in a good number of class rooms. It has to be on record that I sourced the funds for the souvenirs distributed at the handover and for the Monument of Fulfilment erected. I wish to use this medium to give unalloyed appreciation to my sponsor for those programs. Anonymity is maintained as promised.
I unreservedly thank the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Joseph Eberendu Ahaneku, FAS, for ceremonially unveiling the Monument of Fulfilment and made very highly appreciated comments. They were assuring and encouraging. I equally thank him for making it possible that it was at my tenure as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts that the Faculty packed into its state-of-the-art building that turned the Faculty environment the best in the university. I thank all the Deans of the Faculty that served before me. I built on their achievements. I pray that those coming after me would not cast my moderate achievements into the bin but equally build on them. This prayer is with the advice to successors never to start their administration with making condemnatory statements on their predecessors. It is not good for any administration, even if the predecessor keeps silent. People in such steads, more often than not, say things that are not in any way true.
Speeches of a Dean is, therefore, a compilation of some of the speeches I made in various occasions/events when I was the Dean of Faculty, account of my stewardship, reports of some Committees and two other presentations. It is not a treatise on Faculty administration. Nevertheless, it is strongly hoped it would be useful to current and future Deans of Faculties in institutions of higher learning. I am convinced that Deans, as “Governors”, should exhibit leadership with human face even when most Governors of States do not do so.
Rev. Fr. B. A. C. Obiefuna, mnipr
Professor of Religion, Society and Human Relations
Dean, Faculty of Arts, 2014 – 2016
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.