By Matamando Mudika
ZOMBA (Malawi Democrat) -The Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) president, Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, says the order by the University Council, the regulatory authority of the University of Malawi, that Chancellor College and the Polytechnic, two constituent colleges of the university, be Ã¢â‚¬Å“completely sealedÃ¢â‚¬Â off by end of business day this Wednesday, April 6 is Ã¢â‚¬ËœillegalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
“The two campuses shall not be accessible to all categories of staff from 5 oÃ¢â‚¬â„¢clock on April the 6th 2011 except to a few administrative and securityÃ‚Â personnel,” read a letter signed by the University Registrar Mr Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga addressed to all academic and general staff members of the two colleges on Monday.
But the staff members have challenged the Council decision to seal the two colleges, saying it is in contempt of court.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In our view this is an illegal lock-out,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kabwila-Kapasula told Malawi Democrat. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is in contempt of court.
The academic staff Ã‚Â challenged the order in court saying the Council is trying to prevent the lecturers from conducting other duties like research.
JusticeÃ‚Â Godfrey Mwase Ã‚Â in the High Court registry of Zomba agreed Ã‚Â with Ã‚Â lecturers that they were not on Ã‚Â strike but that they boycotted classes because their work environment was hazardous.
In his letter Malunga said the University Council has decided to seal the two campuses after sending off all the students because the lecturers have beenÃ‚Â absconding from duty. He said the lecturers should not access their offices and other college facilities while they are not performing their core function of teaching.
“This means all staff members at these campuses must take away their personal belongings from their offices and hand over all university property and keys to their respective college registrars by the end of business on Wednesday April 6, 2011,” concluded the letter.
Kabwila-Kapasula challenged that the lecturers will not compromise their principals.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have vowed not to give up our struggle to fight for academic freedom. We remain resolved that we will go back to class with our academic freedom,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
Lecturers at Chancellor College went on strike to protest against lack of academic freedom and interference in their work. President Bingu wa Mutharika ordered them to return to class on Monday 14 March, but the academics decided to continue their class boycott until real assurance of academic freedom was given.
The stand-off started after Dr Blessings Chinsinga, an associate political science professor, was interrogated by Peter Mukhito, Malawi’s Inspector General of Police, about a parallel he drew in a lecture between Malawi’s fuel crisis and popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
As a condition to return to class, the academics asked for an official apology from the police chief and assurances of respect for academic freedom.
Mukhito declared that academic freedom had to be balanced with issues of national security and was backed by President Mutharika who urged him not to apologise Ã¢â‚¬Å“to teachers of revolution.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Students recently showed their solidarity with academic staff by demonstrating. Students declared that interference in academic freedom might affect the quality of their education.
Police tried to break up the demonstration by using teargas. According to a police spokesman, several students were arrested, including Chancellor College Student Union president Lonjezo Sithole.