By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Professor Morgan must have sensed that protecting the independence of the University of Mauritius was going to be no easy task as long as control freaks higher up are prone to dictate their wishes to the president of an independent institution. An academic of high calibre with an inherent sense of integrity will have dismissed any attempt from any minister to interfere in the internal decisions of the university.
We are now informed that the Minister of Labour would have intervened at the level of his colleague in the Cabinet to have scheduled tests modified to suit the religious convenience of a specific group of students. This was apparently conceded by the university.
One would have expected the President of UoM to come forward and voice his opinion publicly on this issue. The public at large and the young generation expect a high standard of integrity and principles from the governing body of the university. Surely, no one wishes to see diluting political interferences in the work of academics training a generation of professionals who will run the affairs of the country in a near future. The institution loses its respect when it allows specific political and communal interventions to hold sway by imposing last-minute decisions on a majority of students who have prepared themselves to take up tests at stated points in time. This is totally unacceptable as there was no ‘force majeure’ to rule in favour of the exception. On the contrary, it succeeded to put the entire student population into a state of disarray. When you measure the psychological impact of such wayward decisions on the students as a whole, you have a clear measure of the damage done.
Minister Jeetah has unfortunately given in to this demand. Public outrage should warn ministers that this manner of yielding to pressure may backfire. The Labour Minister has put himself in the front line to introduce into the domain of public education certain new elements specific to one religious group. Normally, there is an escalation of such demands from diverse groups once an exception is introduced. Tensions are unnecessarily created across the board and they often become unmanageable. For this reason, it is advisable not to invite unwanted guests to the table by refraining from going into a slant that shifts the debate to infighting rather than to advancing a broader national framework
Mauritians are educated, mature and pragmatic citizens who are treated at times like untutored children by the ruling class. With a view to calming down the stir caused by the minister’s indirect intervention into what should have been strictly matters for the UoM and the Ministry of Education to deal with, a few persons appeared on the MBC to try to justify it. This does not work out. We have succeeded as a society by keeping down sectional differences from manifesting themselves. It has been a good policy. Private practices that have been accepted so far as normal in the public domain are good enough. Instead of importing more of private practices into the public domain, it would make sense to abide rather strictly by universal values that can be adopted by each and every citizen of this country. There is no point to widen the universe of exceptions if really we want to move together towards tackling other national priorities.
* Published in print edition on 1 November 2012