Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: I read somewhere a writer asking whether Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of The Gambia ” Is Pierre Gomez (the current acting UTG Vice-Chancellor) an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Full Professor?”
My brief attempt to respond to the questioner whether Professor Pierre Gomez deserved the title ” Professor” prefixed to his name. Yes, Dr.Gomez is a Full Professor. However, the professorial ranks are not academic qualifications, and neither are they awarded based on some established criteria. So many cerebral academics attained this position without even a Ph.D., which remains a more excellent acquisition. Moreover, there is no global consensus on the awarding of a professorship.
Bruce Macfarlane, the author of Intellectual Leadership in Higher Education, describes ‘professor’ as ‘a slippery term.’ In the U.K., it means something quite different from what it denotes in North America. In North America, ‘ professor’ and ‘professorship’ are generic labels applied to all academics employed to research and teach in universities. In the U.K., much of Europe (and, for the most part, in Australasia and South Africa), ‘professorship’ denotes distinction: a professor has been promoted to the highest academic grade – usually based on their scholarly achievements. Thus, it is the equivalent to what, in North America, is known as a full professorship.
Fatoumatta: For instance, Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, one of the finest scholars to ever emerge from Nigeria, rejected being conferred the title of Professor in protest of its politics. He dismissed it as a politicized hierarchy and shared that unworthy impostors had earned the rank and no notable contribution to the discipline; they are self-proclaimed specialists. Unless there is a piece of information I have not chanced upon, the renowned Nobel laureate and Professor of comparative literature, Wole Soyinka, became a professor without a Ph.D. His Nobel citation hinted that “he took his doctorate” in 1973 at Leeds, completing his undergraduate studies. However, the record of that on the university’s website said he was only awarded an honorary doctorate. While this does not diminish the literary giant’s accomplishment or eligibility for the total professorial rank, it defeats the argument that professorship is an immutably critical position. Noble Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka has served as a professor in Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and other prominent universities like Emory, Nevada, Las Vegas, and Obafemi Awolowo in Nigeria.
Fatoumatta: Some people are unclear about how someone known as ‘Dr’ is different from someone whose title is ‘Professor.’ ‘Dr’ denotes someone who has studied for, and been awarded, a Ph.D., so it denotes an academic qualification: the holder of the highest university degree. It is the equivalent of writing ‘PhD’ after someone’s name. Most professors will be PhD-holders, but so will be many – if not most – other academics employed as university teachers and researchers. ‘Professor’ does not denote a qualification but an academic staff grade – the most senior one. So, in the U.K., an academic whose title is ‘Dr’ is someone who has got a Ph.D. but has not been promoted to the highest academic grade.
In contrast, an academic whose title is ‘Professor’ probably (but not necessarily) has a Ph.D. but has been promoted to the highest grade on the university pay scale. Professorship, therefore, denotes seniority and status. Let us compare medical doctors working in a hospital. All will have medical degrees, but they are employed at different levels of seniority, with consultants being the most senior doctors. Thus, we may think of professors as the equivalent of hospital consultants.
Professor Basil Davidson is perhaps one of the most widely quoted scholars on African history. His name has appeared in almost every Ph.D. dissertation on African history in the past 50 years. Prof Davidson did not attend university. He had no bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degrees, yet he was one of the most accomplished historians. After high school, he was a reporter for various media houses, rose to a university professor, and wrote some of history’s best books.
Professor Basil Davidson became an honorary fellow of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to teach at university. He wrote many influential books, including Africa: History of a Continent (1972), Africa in History (1966), A History of West Africa 1000-1800 (1965), and African Civilization Revisited: From Antiquity to Modern Times (1990). However, if someone had insisted on a Ph.D., the world would never have known him. Nevertheless, his name is mentioned with those of great historians B.A. Ogot, E. A. Ayandele, J. F. Ade Ajayi, A. B. Itandala, I. N Kimambo, A. J Temu, Roland Oliver, J. D. Fage, Terence Ranger; Philip Curtin, Ronald Robinson, Adu Boehen, Walter Rodney, Jack Gallagher, William Robert Ochieng’, Robert Maxon, and John Iliffe.
Ngugi wa Thiong is perhaps Kenya’s most famous Professor. He does not have an earned master’s or Ph.D., only his good bachelor’s degree, and he is one of Africa’s best-known authors. Some of the most outstanding African professors, including Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwenzi, and Wole Soyinka, never had PhDs.
Prof George Magoha is a full professor of Surgery and distinguished urologist of no mean standing and former vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi. Prof Magoha does not have a Ph.D., but he is one of the most accomplished university administrators.
All universities’ senate reserves their right to dictate who is qualified to be conferred the title. Thus, it is not based on just authoring papers in prestigious journals. Nevertheless, some academics, especially those in STEM, were propelled to full professorship through the practices of their specialism.
Fatoumatta: Whether a full professorship came through merit or nepotism, the truth remains that it is not inherently superior to a Ph.D. and all universities have their peculiar ranking formula.