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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 30 November 2014

LONG OVERDUE CHANGE OF GUARD AT USIU FINALLY HERE

Infighting, backstabbing and boardroom wars have finally led to the long overdue and eagerly awaited retirement of the United States International University vice chancellor Prof Freida Brown.
The Usiu board of trustees have been embroiled in secret wars after it was revealed that Usiu has been for a long time involved in serious fraud of tax evasion, recruitment of foreigners without approval of the board and the running of the institution without the substantive holder of the position of chancelor as required by the universities Act.
But one question that has remained unanswered for two decades is how the Commission for University Education allowed a foreigner working on a two-year contract which she has been renewing with no uncertainty to be a vice-chancellor.
Brown’s retirement which sources say came after years of pressure from local education stakeholders having been at the helm of Usiu for 20 years making her the longest serving VC in Kenya will now put to rest demands by Kenyans that she should let a Kenyan head the institution.
Brown’s retirement has been a thorny issue at Usiu and those who made such proposals found themselves kicked out of employment from Usiu. What has now come out is that for all these years, she has been holding the previous governments of Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki at ransom, causing ministry of Internal Security to almost automatically get the work permit.
Sources say she played games to have her work permit renewed by applying for the renewal when holding the position already and threatening government officials that failure to renew her work permit will bring down Usiu.
The truth of the matter is that apart from coursing previous government officers, she has also been managing Usiu with impunity. A case in hand was the sacking of former VC (finance and administration) Eric Outa. Outa made history by becoming the first senior Usiu staff to dare take her to court.
He went to Industrial Court claiming the termination was wrong and unlawful and the decision was reversed but Outa had already landed job at Riara University.
The announcement made through a formal statement by the chancellor and chair of the Usiu board of trustees Manu Chandaria has been received with jubilation at Usiu with students, non-teaching staff and the academic staff saying it was long overdue.
Sources divulged that already there is a serious boardroom war at Usiu with Chandaria as the chancellor and saying that the mess Brown created will take them years to correct. Chandaria’s main problem is that the university has been involved in serious tax evasion running into millions of shillings.
The tax evasion scam was so big that KRA officials one time stormed the institution and Brown was caught flat-footed and could only tell the taxmen that Usiu is a non-profit making organisation and that they usually plough back to the community while in the real she has been investing in expansion programmes rather than giving back to the community.
It was during one of the stormy meetings that Chandaria discovered that Usiu had not complied with a number of government’s requirements and Chandaria insisted Usiu must operate within the law. It was at the same meeting that Chandaria was appointed the Usiu chancellor.
According to well-placed sources, her retirement has come at a time when she has failed to compromise the Jubilee administration as she used to do with the previous governments. She could no longer call the shots as had been in the past and is therefore vulnerable and to avoid embarrassment, she had no option but to reluctantly accept to retire. Also, she has taken the government to court after construction of by-pass across campus land. It is claimed she had been promised a foot bridge but the government through ministry of Transport seems to have backed off.
Those who have worked with her say that she drew her arrogance by virtue of being a commissioner of the defunct Commissioner of Higher Education making her the most influential foreigner in higher education in Kenya.
To show how powerful she has been, at one time during a meeting called to explore the procedure of mainstreaming the Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Services at Jogoo House, she downdressed Education cabinet secretary Jacob Kaimenyi.
Those who attended the meeting silently wondered who this powerful foreigner was. Some even mistook her for the dreaded CIA. Although she enjoyed protection from the previous government, the Jubilee government has now come out to ensure she respects and obeys the law.
Already, the government is said to be investigating circumstances under which she illegally brought in four expatriates from USA. Rumours have been spreading like bushfire that the four could be CIA since no one knows who vetted them before being allowed to take up the jobs at Usiu.
The government is now said to have opened up investigations on the real ownership of Usiu-A and based on a statement she at one time gave that nobody owns Usiu and that really confirmed that she could be the owner as previously alleged.
According to well-placed sources, initially, she was to retire by December 31 2014 but pleaded with the board to add her one more year to sort out a few matters before she could pick up her bags, call it quits and head for JKIA to catch a flight home.
The Usiu board sources say reluctantly extended her contract by a year. In the statement, Chandaria wrote “As chancellor of the university and chairman of the board of trustees, it is my responsibility to inform you that at its annual meeting held this year from Friday, November 14 to Sunday, November 16 2014, the board of trustees received formal notice from the vice chancellor Prof Freida Brown of her intention to retire from the office of vice chancellor of the United States International University -Africa, effective midnight, Thursday, December 31 2015”.
But what is again raising eyebrows is the fact that Chandaria signed the letter as Usiu’s chancellor, and the question is how he can be chancellor of two universities. Apart from being the chancellor and chairman of board of trustees of Usiu, Chandaria is also listed as chancellor of the Technical University of Kenya. He also now makes history by becoming the first person to be chancellor of two universities.
According to Usiu’s charter which is yet to be amended as required by the law, it only provides for CEO/chancellor, so is Chandaria the CEO of Usiu? We have also gathered that Brown’s exit had been kept a top secret.
Sources privy to her dealings divulged that her exit had been planned to be silent as per the advice of the US Embassy as her continued friction with the government could have endangered her life. 
Already, lobbying for her replacement has begun as word spread within the university that Chandaria has convened a search committee of the board which will begin the process of finding a new vice chancellor to take over from Brown.
The statement reads in part: “The committee will be expanded to include representation from all constituent groups within the university and, once it has been finalised, more details on its mandate and my charge to them will follow. This team will work closely with an international search and recruitment company”.
Mid this year, Brown found herself between a rock and a hard place when word leaked out that the Usiu degrees and diplomas were not valid. The matter found its way to the national assembly where a parliamentary Committee on Education was directed by House Speaker Justin Muturi to conduct further investigations to establish whether the Usiu had breached the universities Act and the validity of their degrees and diplomas.
This came after MP Victor Munyaka sought clarification after concern by graduates who have passed through Usiu with long serving vice-chancellor at the helm.
The bone of contention then was that Usiu has no post of the chancellor to confer degrees and diplomas and that Usiu’s structure has since its establishment failed to appoint a chancellor to award the certificates. Chandaria was finally appointed the chancellor.
Trouble for Brown began following a circular signed by principal secretary in the ministry of Education Belio Kipsang and Commission of University Education, Prof David Some which sought to rein in private universities breaching the Act.
What is now raising eyebrows even as Brown bows to pressure is why Usiu has over the years failed to appoint qualified Kenyans to hold the post of vice-chancellor currently. It is laughable to note that she holds a dubious title of being the longest serving vice chancellor in Kenya.
The act which is now a big blow to Brown relates to the appointment of chancellors in both public and private universities, development of statutes and regulations by universities accreditation of universities.
At Usiu, one question that has always remained unanswered is over its ownership. It is claimed the university is owned by a group of Americans, with an ex-US ambassador to Kenya (Aurelia Braseal) listed as director of the university located in the Kasarani area, off Thika Road.
According to the website, the university is an independent, not-for-profit institution serving approximately 4,800 students, of whom 88pc are domestic and 12pc are international representing about 54 nationalities.
Another thorny issue which Brown must address before she packs her bag to kiss bye to Usiu is the fact that the ministry of Education, Science and Technology had rejected an amended version of the Usiu Charter saying it is in conflict with the universities Act No 42 of 2012.
It has now emerged that it was a deliberate and tactical move by Usiu to continue without a chancellor and it is after it was rejected that Chandaria was appointed the chancellor. It has been whispered within the corridors of Usiu that Brown fears leadership competition from locals who are more qualified.
At one given time, a group of Usiu students wanted to go to court to challenge the validity of their degrees awarded illegally by vice chancellor and in the absence of the senate. After the Commission for University Education got wind of the students’ move, they alerted the ministry of a looming crisis at Usiu which made the ministry to panic and prompted some action.
Sources say it was Brown who pleaded with Kaimenyi not to withdraw Usiu charter and also not to have her work permit revoked. She promised to hurriedly appoint a chancellor and senate and indeed she appointed Chandaria.
It is rumoured that among the stooges Brown fronts to propagate her rule at Usiu include Vimal Shah who is Kepsa chairman and Chandaria. Lecturers are of thye view that these gentlemen are rubber stamps and do not even know who owns Usiu and other underhands.