Kampala. Makerere University has told lecturers to declare their love relationships with students to avoid conflict of interest so that the institution can help them manage their relationships professionally and check cases of prevalent sexual harassment at the campus.
In an interview with Daily Monitor on Monday, the Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, said the university comprises mature people who may develop mutual passionate feelings towards each other, but when this happens, the supervisor must declare conflict of interest and hand over that student to another colleague.
“We have always emphasised that a lecturer has enormous power over the student, but they should exercise professional behaviour.
Where mutual feelings develop, the supervisor should excuse himself and hand over the student and this is only for mutually agreed relationships,” Prof Nawangwe said.
During a graduate students supervisors seminar for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in Kampala, the university’s Deputy Director of Research and Graduate Studies, Prof David Owiny, told lecturers it is normal for them to develop love relationships with students under their supervision.
However, in such circumstances, they should declare their romantic affairs to the university administration.
Prof Owiny said even within the university, there are staff members who have raised strong families through such relationships.
When asked yesterday whether this will not lead to staff indulging in sexual affairs with students and later victimise them, Prof Buyinza Mukadasi, the head of Directorate of Research and Graduate Studies, said they have no powers to stop such romantic relationships.
“All we want is for you to declare to us the relationship so that we can help you to make it formal and we also advise that you formalise it immediately to avoid problems for both of you,” Prof Mukadasi said.
Asked whether this flexibility is intended to curb the sexual scandals that have rocked Uganda’s oldest university for years, Prof Buyinza said the decision is in line with the recommendation of Slyvia Tamale committee.
He said the university is amending its 2003 and 2008 Sex and Gender policy to address the findings of the committee report about sexual exploitation at the university.
The report recommended that university staff disclose the extent of their relationships with students.
The committee was appointed by Prof Nawangwe to investigate cases of alleged sexual harassment at the university which bred the sex-for-marks scandal between students and their lecturers or other university staff in the examination results chain.
The report confirmed that cases of sexual harassment and exploitation were prevalent at the university.
It observed that staff use their powers and offices to coerce female students into sex and threaten to fail them if they do not comply.
“University staff should disclose the extent of their relationships with students and other staff members whom they are required to directly evaluate or asses and a third party should be appointed to undertake the evaluation or assessment instead. Intimate relationships between students and university employees cannot be prohibited but they should be strongly discouraged as they involve grave risks and complications,” the report reads in part.
However, when contacted yesterday, the chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association, Mr Deus Kamunyu, said the university is giving exaggerated attention to registering love relationships when there are other pressing issues such as poor governance.
He said some staff are not married and can get their future spouses from post-graduate students, adding that registering their relationships will not end sexual harassment.
“The efforts the university is putting in fighting sexual harassment and sex-for-marks is the same effort it should use to fight bad governance at the university. Whereas we acknowledge the vice at the university, registering relationships is not necessary because it is sensational. The university should instead empower students and sensitise them about the vice and work upon other clear frameworks to fight it,” Mr Kamunyu said by telephone.
However, he said if the university management insists, the lecturers will simply do it for formality, but added that they had not been informed about the decision.
The guild president, Mr Papa Were, reiterated the argument that registering the lecturer-student love relationships will not end cases of sexual harassment or exploitation.
Mr Were said the university has students who are mature and married to some lecturers, so it is unnecessary to interfere with their love relationships.
He said the institution should instead instill discipline and morals among staff and students and sensitise them about the dangers of trading sex for marks.
“I do not think implementing the recommendation of having staff register their relationships with students would end cases of sexual harassment and sex-for-marks at campus. The university should first know the nature of students. We have some students who are mature and you cannot stop them from dating, so registering them is interfering in their relationships. This is a moral issue that needs caution and sensitisation,” Mr Were said.