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Our universities are becoming hotbed of intolerance: the culprits are none other than university instructors  

September 15, 2019

Asmelash Yohannes, PhD.

Mekelle University School of Law

We are pretty pre-occupied with politics.  Our life is consumed with political rumours. Social media posts are awash with ADP said this; Jawar Mohammed  said that; Lemma Megersa said this: Getachew Reda blurted this or that …..  However, there is something that must be dealt with immediately.

Our universities are becoming a place for extremism and intolerance as a result of the unbridled participation of university instructors in politics. University instructors are spending a large chunk of their time and energy licking their political masters’ tails.  It is not an exaggeration to say that an entire generation is being sacrificed for cheap political gains. You have university instructors who have been teaching at public universities for more than a decade. These people are dominating the social media and main stream media. You see them almost on daily basis on national and regional TVs. They don’t talk anything new. They are like parrots: they simply repeat what they said year ago. You see them uttering words that you don’t expect from a university instructor. Moreover, they post facebook messages almost on daily basis.

However, if you dig deep into their academic records, you quickly realize that most of them were mediocre students and you wonder how they have landed an academic position. These people have been teaching at public universities for more than a decade. But they miserably failed to publish a single article worth of academic discourse. Their world vision is very narrow. They defend a political party that is based in their respective regions. For example, a university instructor based in Tigray fiercely defends TPLF. Another instructor based in Gondar or Bahirdar is engrossed disappointedly in the politics of ADP and his unhinged criticism of TPLF or ODP is appalling. A university instructor from Ambo or Jimma is acting submissively as a mouthpiece for ODP.

It is shame to see colleagues being used by political parties to make cheap political points.  I have sympathy and sometimes an absolute disdain for my colleagues. My sympathy is based on the fact that my colleagues cannot survive on their meagre government salary.  Inflation is skyrocketing and life has become unbearable for them. Thus, they have to do some odd jobs to support their family. This in fact includes writing what they are being instructed to write by their money masters.  TPLF, ODD and ADP understand my colleagues’ loopholes. These parties have the money and my colleagues need that money. Consequently, Ethiopian politics have created a new market that is not doing any favour to the democratic transition of the country.

On the other hand, my disdain emanates from two facts.  For one thing, my colleagues are not writing something that could be used as an input to the economic and democratic development of the country. They write rubbish posts on facebook and they talk nonsense on their TV appearances. For the other thing, they are not allocating sufficient time for academic works. They are always short of time. You cannot even have a proper talk with them during coffee time. Their eyes are always stuck on their facebook pages. They spend their time counting the number of likes they get for their facebook posts. This is really embarrassing.  My colleagues’ obsession with social media fame is destroying a generation right in front of our eyes. Being a university instructor is a prestigious position. Our students come from different corners of the country. Some of our students may be supporters of TPLF while others may support ADP or ODP. However, when a university instructor posts extreme ideas on social media and stands in front of his students to teach the next day, he definitely loses the respect and trust of his students. They do not believe that he would treat them equally with the other students who share the instructor’s political views. I had numerous discussions on this matter with several students over the past few years. One of the issues that repeatedly pop up during our discussion is that university instructors are giving them the lowest grades (‘C’ or ‘D’ or even ‘F’) because they are from a certain ethnic background or because they support a certain political party.  I always take their complaints with a pinch of salt. I don’t believe that my colleagues would go that low to hurt their students. But university instructors should blame themselves for creating such perception due to the toxic messages they are posting on social media.

My advice to colleagues all over the country is that you can support any political party that you like. As a human rights lawyer, I understand that you are entitled to hold or express any political view. But it should not be at the expense of the future of the country and your insatiable appetite for 15 minutes political fame is destroying an entire generation.  My concern is that the views you are promoting on social media are biased and imbalanced. Some of the views border extremism and they are not based on facts. I also urge the ministry of education to come up with some kind of guideline on the use of social media and main stream media by university instructors. At the end of the day, these colleagues are employees of the federal government irrespective of the location of the university where they teach. Therefore, the ministry of education needs to get to grips with the gravity of the current situation as quickly as possible.

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