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UG lecturers react to Commonwealth Hall students’ ‘insults’ over annex project

Ghana Ghana News

Some lecturers at the University of Ghana (UG) have formally responded to a group of students from the Commonwealth Hall who recently cast aspersions on them over the construction of the Hall’s annex project.

In a letter written by Prof. Nana Akua Anyidoho on behalf of the faculty, she categorically mentioned that the unsavoury comments from the students were indicative of deliberate misinformation about the impending project.

“In the first place, there is no truth to the claim that the 27 faculty members are against the Commonwealth Hall Annex project”, the letter clarified.

It further stated that the lecturers who had requested to meet the students to discuss pertinent matters on the project were only doing so in accordance with the university’s statutory laid-down procedures and not to stampede construction works.

She also described as erroneous, the students’ claim that the faculty members “are plotting to bring female students to Commonwealth Hall.”

The letter which was addressed to the President and Junior Common Room (JCR) members of the Commonwealth Hall explained that the lecturers’ concern about the annex project only has to do with the siting, environmental and financial implications, and non-compliance with the procedures and regulations of the University and government.

While reiterating its commitment to have the project constructed in a more sustainable and favourable approach, Prof. Nana Akua Anyidoho noted that the actions of the students are unacceptable within an academic community and a “breach of section 18.3 of the University of Ghana Regulations for Junior Members, which details non-academic offences such as threats of harm to people.”

It would be recalled that a sod-turning ceremony was held at the Commonwealth Hall, in November 2019 for the commencement of the construction of an annex to accommodate more students.

But the lecturers numbering 27 requested a special meeting of convocation to discuss and address issues they had with the building of the additional hostel facility.

At a recent press conference organized by the students to protest their displeasure over the stalling of the project, the aggrieved students, however, accused the lecturers of sabotage warning that they would do everything possible to ensure that the project was executed.

Below is the full letter

Dear Junior Colleagues,

CONCERNS ABOUT THE COMMONWEALTH HALL ANNEX PROJECT

We write to engage with you on recent public statements made by individuals who have represented themselves as speaking for students of Commonwealth Hall. We are taking this step because the statements made during a press conference organized in your name on Friday, 29 January 2021 suggest to us that you do not have accurate information about the issues at stake in the debate over the Commonwealth Hall Annex project. We suspect that there has been deliberate misinformation, which has resulted in your representatives directing insults and threats towards 27 faculty members of the university who requested a special meeting of convocation to discuss the project.

Correction of untruths

In the first place, there is no truth to the claim that the 27 faculty members are against the Commonwealth Hall Annex project. Requesting a special meeting of convocation is one of the university’s laid-down procedures that obliges the Vice-Chancellor to call a meeting of all Senior Members to discuss issues of urgent concern to the university. The faculty members simply signed the letter to fulfil the statutory requirement for such a special meeting to be called.

Secondly, in addition to these 27 lecturers, several other members of the university have raised concerns about the project, beginning in November 2019 when 150 members of faculty (including fellows of Commonwealth Hall) wrote to the University Council to reconsider the site of the project. This was followed in December 2019 by a request for a special meeting of convocation by another group of faculty members. The convocation of 14 January 2021, which was the subject of your press conference, was the second special convocation to discuss the Commonwealth Hall Annex project. Outside of the university, the Minister of Finance, some Old Vandals, and even members of the public have expressed similar concerns about the siting of the project, its finances, and the statutory processes leading up to the assumption of construction work in December 2020.

Thirdly, at the various meetings and in all the letters sent to university authorities, Senior Members (again, including fellows of Commonwealth Hall) have consistently affirmed the need for more accommodation on campus and have supported Commonwealth Hall’s right to have an annex. There is, therefore, absolutely no truth to the allegation that the 27 faculty members or any others are dead set against Commonwealth Hall having an annex or are plotting to bring female students to Commonwealth Hall.

Finally, and contrary to statements made at the press conference, the Commonwealth Hall Annex project has not passed through all the university’s approval processes. This is why the start of construction work (which began with the cutting down of trees and grading of the site in December 2020) caused such consternation among the university community. These unauthorized actions by the developers is what led the call for the special convocation of January 2021, where the Vice-Chancellor confirmed that the project had not received approval by the University Council because there were many outstanding matters to be addressed.

Questions raised about Commonwealth Hall Annex Project

The questions that many members of the university community have raised about the Commonwealth Annex project have been with respect to the siting of the project, its environmental and financial implications, as well as its non-compliance with the procedures and regulations of the University of Ghana and the Government of Ghana.

  • Procedures and regulations: The University Council has not authorized the Commonwealth Hall Annex Project because many members of the university have raised important questions that have still not been addressed by the initiators of the project. In a letter on 7 January 2021 responding to an enquiry from faculty members about the start of construction work on the site, the Vice-Chancellor said that he was not aware that construction had begun and that Council was still waiting on important project documentation that had been requested from the Old Vandals Association. Indeed, even at the hall level, there has not been an open discussion among fellows about the project and their requests for information has not been responded to by the initiators of the project. Why would a project that is supposed to be beneficial to the hall not be carried out in a transparent manner and following the proper processes?
  •     Financial: Among other documentation, the University Council and the Minister of Finance have demanded information on the financial arrangements for the project, which have still not been provided. Please be aware that the Commonwealth Hall Annex construction is a commercial project funded by a bank loan. The university requires proof of availability of 80% of funding as well as information on the financial viability of the project. For instance, is it the plan to charge students commercial rates for the hostels or is it the expectation that the mall and conference centre will turn significant enough profits to pay back the loan? Currently, the university is saddled with uncompleted building projects that have run into financial troubles. We are concerned that without proper financial grounding, this could happen with the annex project.
  •     Environmental: Many questions have been raised about the environmental implications of the annex project. These do not only have to do with the magnificent trees (including decades-old silk cotton trees) that have been destroyed since December 2020, taking away from the beauty of the hill and the green reputation of the university. Questions have been asked also about issues of water supply, sanitation, light, noise levels, parking and traffic. For example, we know that Commonwealth Hall students are challenged by chronic water shortage. The developers have not given the university information about how they will ensure that adding 4,000 beds to the 1,000-bed capacity of the main hall – thus increasing the population of the hall five-fold – will not drastically worsen the water shortages that students face. Further, there has been no assessment of the ways in which having more than 5,000 students, plus a mall and conference centre, will affect the comfort and convenience of students in terms of noise and sanitation. Neither have the developers addressed the traffic that will come with having a commercial mall and conference centre on the hill. There is a reason the university is zoned; our current master plan does not make room for these business activities in the administrative and ceremonial centre of the university, and next to student halls of residence. It may interest you to note that a proposal some years back to build a mall near the “Diaspora” hostels, at the edge of campus, was turned down by the university because of concerns that the flow of traffic would harm the university’s teaching and learning environment, as well as the safety and security of students and lecturers. Why would it make sense now to place a shopping mall and a conference centre right at the heart of the campus?
  •     Aesthetics: Commonwealth Hall has pride of place on the university campus, located as it is at the apex of the university’s main avenue. The university community has over the years sought to preserve the unique character of the hall and its green surroundings because it is a big part of what makes the Legon campus beautiful. The buildings that will be crowded around the main hall (the five-storey hostels, the mall, conference centre, and lecturers’ flats) will remove the beautiful greenery and completely dwarf the existing main hall, taking away much of what gives Commonwealth Hall its magnificent appearance. Why would anyone with pride in the “Romantic Vandal City” want to see its beauty destroyed?

In summary, we are very much in favour of Commonwealth Hall having an annex that is located in a nearby and environmentally sustainable location, once the governance, environmental and financial implications of such a project have been properly addressed.

The actions of Commonwealth Hall students in creating an atmosphere of threat and intimidation

This brings us to the actions of some Commonwealth Hall students which, even if carried out on the basis of misinformation, are nonetheless inexcusable. Just before the special Convocation of the University held on 14 January 2021, there were rumblings of plans by students and alumni of Commonwealth Hall to march up to the Great Hall and disrupt proceedings. The university was forced to call in extra security for the meeting. During the last week of January, messages began circulating on social media with a list of the names of the 27 faculty members who had requested the special meeting of convocation, warning them to “get ready to answer to Vandals”. This was followed on Friday, 29 January 2021 by a press conference covered by various television stations, where the names of these members of Convocation were read out by the spokesperson, with other students providing a background chorus of insults. On Sunday, 31 January 2021, Commonwealth Hall students besieged the premises of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Chaplaincy, where Rev. Prof. M. P. K. Okyerefo (a fellow of Commonwealth Hall who has voiced his concern about the project) was among the clergy holding mass to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the chaplaincy, with two Catholic bishops as special guests. The students wielded placards bearing his name, demanding that he stay away from Commonwealth Hall.

While we support your right as students to voice your concerns, these actions are unacceptable in an academic environment, not least because they breach of section 18.3 of the University of Ghana Regulations for Junior Members, which details non-academic offences such as threats of harm to people.

As your senior colleagues in the university, we want to believe that if we present you with the facts of this case, you will inform yourselves about the issues and take steps to de-escalate the situation. We also urge you to make prudent decisions about the battles you are drawn into,  based on a calculation of the long-term consequences to yourselves and to the university.

As we continue to discuss the annex project, we commit to the following and ask that you do the same: to listen to different sides of the issue; to agree to disagree without threats of intimidation; and to follow laid down procedures in expressing our views. Anything short of this dishonours your position as members of Commonwealth Hall and of the University of Ghana.

Know that we are available to have further discussions in a mutually-respectful manner.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Nana Akua Anyidoho

(on behalf of members of convocation named in the Commonwealth Hall press conference)

cc:

The Master, Commonwealth Hall

President, Old Vandals Association

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academic and Student Affairs

The Dean of Students

Student Representative Council

Graduate Students’ Association of Ghana-University of Ghana

Members of Convocation

All media houses

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