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General News Wed, 27 Feb 2008

Re: UCC Professor sacked for "Okro Mouth"

STATEMENT ON VISITING APPOINTMENT OF PROFESSOR STEPHEN YUAGI CHEN

We have followed the recent radio discussions on the non extension of the appointment of a Visiting Professor of this University from York University, Canada, Professor Stephen Yuagi Chen. We note that the discussions have centred largely around a Blog posting entered by the Professor’s wife (Terri Chu) on February 8, 2008 about “cars that bug her”. It appears to us that the comments by some of the callers into the programmme and some of the discussion panelists have been made out of ignorance. We provide, below, for the information of the general public, a background to the issue.

First it is necessary to state what the University’s policy on faculty and student exchange is. The University fully supports the international exchange of faculty, staff and students. The benefits that accrue to a University when it determines to internationalise its campus are many and far-reaching, and the University of Cape Coast has been in the forefront of this drive in Ghana. We believe that hosting international students and professors on campus is rather like infusing new blood into a system. It invigorates all the processes of achievement and excellence. Simply by being present to participate in the University’s life and culture, foreign students and professors expand horizons and broaden perspectives. They change the prevailing structures of thinking, heighten self awareness and open minds to new vistas. International education is fast becoming one of the most important forces in higher education today, an almost indispensable passport to the globalised knowledge economy of the 21st century. In much the same way, the foreign scholar takes away all the benefits of experiencing a new culture, people and environment. In return, the University expects from the visiting scholar a certain level of decorum that conforms with the status accorded him/her. In fact, we may think of the exchange scholar as an ambassador of his/her country, the vehicle of all that is worth exporting to the receiving institution.

Professor Stephen Chen of York University, Canada applied to spend his sabbatical leave at the University of Cape Coast. The application was sent to the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology for initial consideration. Following recommendations made by the Department through the Faculty Appointments and Promotions Committee, the University approved Professor Chen’s appointment as a Visiting Associate Professor for a period of one semester in the 2007/2008 academic year with no option for the renewal or extension of the appointment (a copy of the appointment letter is attached).

Professor Chen assumed duty in August, 2007 in the company of his wife who was later engaged at the University Practice Secondary School as a volunteer teacher.

In line with practice here at the University of Cape Coast, we followed Professor Chen’s progress during the course of the semester and ensured that he was involved in all University activities as much as possible. Indeed, last semester when the Canadian High Commissioner to Ghana paid a courtesy call on the Vice-Chancellor, we invited the Professor and his wife to the meeting so they could interact with the High Commissioner.

However, in the course of the semester, it came to our notice that Professor Chen, together with his wife, had set up a Blog on the internet (www.teachinginghana.com) in which they claimed to post their experiences in Ghana as a guide to persons the world over who were planning extended trips to the country. It was observed that most of the postings on the Blog were derogatory and negative comments about the University, Ghana’s educational system and general conditions in the country. These postings were read and commented on by people across the world. Being a University that cherishes the concept of academic freedom and the freedom of speech that should underpin every true democracy, we understood that they could write what they wanted. Noting however that a lot of the information they put out about the University, especially regarding teaching and research, grading system and examinations was inaccurate and, perhaps, made out of ignorance, we invited the Professor to a discussion at which his Dean of Faculty and Head of Department were present. We pointed out to him how the inaccuracies in the postings were unnecessarily tarnishing the image of the University in particular and the country Ghana at large. We drew his attention to the need to consult his colleagues in the Department, Head of Department or Dean if he needed clarification in any matter. We also made an attempt to call his attention to our procedures for registering grievances and seeking redress. In spite of the friendly meeting with the Professor, he and his wife continued to send derogatory and negative information about their experiences in the University and in Ghana. Among other things, they wrote about getting cheated by Ghanaians, Ghanaians not supporting one another in business, and advising potential visitors about the details even of their toiletries during their stay in Ghana. No standard of decency seemed to cause the Professor to pause and think of his situation as a Visiting Professor.

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As a scholar, one would have expected Prof. Chen to perform, at least, some minimal research before committing himself to broad assertions about the way the University is run. When he discovers that the facts do not support his prejudice, he casually dismisses those facts as if being wrong does not matter. As far as we know, this does no credit to the tradition of scholarship and fairness associated with Prof. Chen’s home University, York University in North York, Canada.

Evidently, Prof. Chen did not enjoy his stay with us much in spite of the very warm traditional Ghanaian welcome that was accorded him and his wife. There were some Professors and other staff who opened up their homes to him. But it was as if nothing we could do could ever please him. The harder we tried, the worse he thought of us.

In any case, his appointment was for only a semester as alluded to earlier on and this was due to end in December, 2007. The University administration wrote to the Professor on December 20, 2007 reminding him of the expiry of his appointment and thanking him for the services he had rendered to the University. His appointment which had come to an end was simply not extended and this does not fall outside the prerogative of the University. To say, therefore that his appointment was terminated by the University is far from the truth.

Having said this, it is important to point out that there are two things that stand out in his tirade that need to be answered. For the sake of the long standing, mutually beneficent relationship between Ghana and Canada, Prof. Chen’s assertion that the University of Cape Coast has misapplied Canadian monies needs to be addressed. We say for the record that the Canadian Government, as a matter of policy, does not give direct aid to individual institutions and therefore the issue of misapplication of Canadian loans and grants cannot be supported. We can say categorically therefore that the University of Cape Coast has never received any direct Canadian monies. The citizenry of Canada can rest assured on this score.

The other myth by Prof. Chen that needs to be debunked concerns the many new cars that he finds on our campus. He and his wife seem particularly upset to find University Professors and Administrators riding top-of-the-line vehicles. One notices a certain amount of envy in his every submission, but the obsession peaks when he and his wife come to the topic of cars. It is as if he is disappointed to find that Ghanaians live better than he expected. It will be easy enough to dismiss this as a humorous interlude but the allegation of misapplication of foreign grants and loans to purchase these cars must be seriously addressed. If he had taken the time to ask, Prof. Chen would have found out that those lines of cars that beautify our campus come out of a Government and University hire-purchase scheme that only two years ago was made available to Professors and staff in the University. Those cars have been earned. It is strange that Prof. Chen would take umbrage that ambition and self-application would be rewarded in an African University. We do not care to comment on the racist implications of his attitude.

The University of Cape Coast today, has rightly earned its status as West Africa’s University of Choice. Prof. Chen must have known this before making the choice to come to the University of Choice. The University’s profile is respected worldwide. We have known the greatest spurt of growth in the last ten years. Our graduates are welcomed as respected students, lecturers and professionals all over the world. The University of Cape Coast has grown an impeccable reputation of which we are very proud, and it is our determination that we will not allow any individual of whatever caste to disturb this achievement.

Source: Division of Public Affairs,Ucc
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