Prof. Paul Wainaina: Defiant Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor who Defied Uhuru

Vice-Chancellor of Kenyatta University Prof. Paul Wainaina is perceived by some as an unwavering supporter of the public university’s claim to its property. Others view him as an administration thorn in the side of efforts by the government to reallocate public land to other initiatives that are just as crucial.
The educationist may not have imagined himself in the public eye at 71, let alone having to adopt an embarrassing stance that was at conflict with that of influential government figures.

Prof. Wainaina made a spectacular return to the public institution last Wednesday after his tearful speech to the staff on July 12 gave the impression that he had given up and quit. There were rumors that he had been fired as well.

In the blazing sun, a group of students raised him shoulder-high while chanting and blowing vuvuzelas in celebration of his return. As the VC ascended five flights of steps to his office, they kept chanting.

He came out of the staircase at 2.36 p.m. “I want to explain that I did not quit because there is nothing improper I have done,” he remarked, sounding excited but composed, wearing a grey suit and maroon tie over a loosely tucked white shirt that had been raised by students and jostled by employees.

A block of land next to Kenyatta University Teaching, Research, and Referral Hospital is the source of Prof. Wainaina’s problems, which led to his dismissal a few days ago.

His reinstatement was mandated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court last Thursday, pending the outcome of an appeal on his removal from the university.

On January 26, 2018, the former elementary school teacher was promoted to vice-chancellor after two years of acting in that capacity. He took over for Prof. Olive Mugenda, who is currently the chairman of the Kenyatta University Teaching, Research, and Referral Hospital.

The university, which has approximately 70,000 students dispersed across seven campuses, is under the direction of Prof. Wainaina. The 720 acres that make up the main campus are divided up for additional initiatives, such as a World Health Organization hub.

In court, the government’s decision has been challenged.

Other than the property dispute, Prof. Wainaina’s time as vice-chancellor has been dogged by difficulties.

Less than two months after assuming control of Kenya’s second-oldest university, lecturers began a 78-day strike over the implementation of a collective bargaining agreement that had been drafted in part from 2010 to 2013 and 2013 to 2017. The agreement had been drafted from 2010 to 2013, and 2013 to 2017, but was not finalized until after his appointment.

He begged the academics to reconsider their strike, pointing out that the two months of university closure had serious negative consequences, some of which were pecuniary. When everything appeared to have calmed down in 2019, several students threatened to picket and demanded his resignation.

Prof. Wainaina was accused by the students of enforcing “draconian norms that oppress them and their parents.” The argument centered on the rise in graduation fees and the requirement that students use a brand-new footbridge inside the campus.

“That was a political move as they had their person whom they wished to occupy the VC’s seat,” Moses Ngigi, the Kenyatta University (KU) student association president, told the Business Daily. “He is approachable, a father figure, humble, calm, listens, and doesn’t act in anger.”

The ownership dispute involving the Kenyatta University Teaching, Research, and Referral Hospital then developed and reached Parliament.
Documents submitted to Parliament revealed conflicts taking place behind the scenes for control of the Sh8.7 billion facility between the hospital board and Kenyatta University management.

The hospital was initially intended to be built with all of its resources dedicated to teaching, training, and research.

The subject is one of three KU-related court cases that have been filed, but this has not transpired.

“The reason why I feel we need to fight for that hospital is that if we don’t, our medical school is going to be closed. It is going to be deregistered for failing to reach the standards,” Prof Wainaina said.

He claims that’s why, on July 12, when he addressed employees and students and warned them that it might be his last speech to them as their VC, he was moved to tears.

He holds a PhD in educational philosophy from Canada and is well familiar with the mysteries surrounding Kenyan colleges. He has worked for 36 years in higher education, the majority of which were spent at KU. Prior to joining Moi University as a senior lecturer in 1987, he first started teaching at KU in 1985.

Between 1990 to 1996, he taught as an associate professor of education at Moi University before becoming a full professor there.

In 2005, he returned to KU as a lecturer. He was selected to the KU Management Board four years later, where he served for five years. Additionally, he joined the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF), which addresses employment in public higher education institutions.

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Written by Esther Oyugi

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