Archive for January 9, 2009

The truth about AAU

After much deliberation and soul-searching, I’ve decided to publish this post for an ex-Instructor of mine. May not be much use in changing the behaviors of the Instructor under question. But it may tell all those who do not know how bad things are allowed to go at that sacred place.

Dear Sir,

When the news of you earning your PhD and adding the title “Doctor” to your name reached me, the first thing that came to my mind was a poem:

Before you gave me African Literature, your fame has preceded you. “He’s the only one they got who knows what he’s talking about”, one of your ex-students from Kotebe College has reassured me, “He even has written books on it!”. The only thing I should be forewarned with when it comes to you, he said, is not to ask questions. For you are notoriously arrogant, and are known to verbally abuse and throw things at those students who failed to impress you favorably. Which I felt was a fair deal. After all, all great lecturers were insulting and abusive: Dr. BeFikadu Degffie, Dr. Mesay Kebede, Dr. Getachew Bolodia (nefsachewin yemarewna). What is important is getting what one should out of the course. Being a skilled “WenBer Gotach”, after all, won’t get any one of us anywhere after we graduated [some of us taking longer than others to change our F’s to C’s and reach the grade floor of 2.0].

Then summer came. “African Literature”, one of the course-offerings read, with your name next to it. I’ve always been guilt-ridden by the fact that I knew more about European literature than I did my continent’s. And that I could talk more about Dickens’ works than I could Soyinka’s. So I was excited. Excited and apprehensive. I went directly to the book store and bought your “Map of African Literature”. You have to be prepared, I told myself, this isn’t one of those 2.50 & above Cumulative Average instructors who got the job because he spoke better English than the rest of the competitors. Or the Master-student turned fellow classmate who everybody knows made it through by reading from the “a’teriras” on his hand. [The Assistant-professor who gives the best grades to those who showed improvement in their Creative Writing Class instead of those who knew how to write (the later need no encouragement, he believes). Or the Doctor who spends half the time by taking attendance and the other half with talking about how things used to be while he was in Germany.] This was you. The you who wrote books. Translated novels. Argued fierce arguments on those “literary discourses” Baahil Ma’ekel prepares.

So.. even though you weren’t one of the half a dozen or so instructors who neither wrote books nor did anything extraordinary; except for charging the “believer” in us and making us realize we can be better than what we’ve been told or thus far believed; those handful “YeEwQet Abaat/Enaat”s who did not bury their talents even when they were passed by (time and again) for not having the proper connections or refusing to sell their honor, I was ready to receive what you, dear Sir, were willing to give me.

You came to class, you didn’t tardy, you came to class for three consecutive days. You talked about the “slave writing” era of the African literature with your back to us, about France’s Assimilation policy and the Negritude movement. You didn’t acknowledge our existence, but you seem to know what you are talking about. [You definitely gave better lecture than the two other lecturers I later saw: the restless young man who doesn’t seem to have come across the word “symbol” or “imagery” in his years as a Student and Lecturer and the fatherly PhD who once mocked the proverb “..affetAtene ende Gundan, achekakene ende enate” with the question “how can a mother be cruel?”].

You finished your lecture on time and told us a term paper is expected of us. “Not more than 12 pages,” you said sternly “on either setting, point of view, theme, character analysis or plot. I’ll give you three weeks. 12 pages of term paper on an African novel of your choice”. Then, you went missing. Six weeks passed before you showed up your face. “Where are your papers?” you demanded. Those handful of us who came bowed our head in silence. That made you mad. Really mad! You called us names and slammed the door on your way out. We have to tip-toe in and out of your office to give the paper to your secretary while you typed away your Doctorate Defense on the computer.

Then.. it was exam time. We poured over your book. A book many of your proud ex-students told us has been published time and again. A book they swore hasn’t got one student’s plagiarized research paper in it (unlike “Yesinetsihuff Meseretawiyan”, a ‘fana weGi’ text book that has become the source of many a bitter joke between post graduates). The fact that your book seems to have gotten 95% of it’s material from other published works didn’t bother me. The repetitions and the spelling errors didn’t make me think twice. When I came across the paragraph that discusses “No Longer at Ease” and wonders “I don’t know if Achebe is trying to tell us Oki Okonkwo is the grandson of Things Fall Apart’s protagonist”, however, I was convinced you didn’t even bother to take a look at your own writing! For only a few pages earlier you have claimed Oki was Okonkwo’s grandson. A truth anybody who read both books and can put 2 and 2 together can clearly see.

Then.. we were told you have become a doctor. A Doctor of Philosophy, none the less. And we bowed our heads. And wondered.

“What is knowledge”, we asked ourselves, “if it can’t create a more responsible person out of you? If it failed to make you behave better, share better, sharpen your ears so you could heed to the plights of the millions in need of your help?!”

Or would you be content enough [now that you have won the race for Doctor-dom] to become a teacher – for a change?

January 9, 2009 at 8:42 am 15 comments


The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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January 2009

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