I’m starting to get the real vision of Ashesi University College. I knew that the vision was for a liberal arts college in Ghana. I knew that they wanted to be the Swarthmore of Africa. But I didn’t understand how radical that was for this place.
There has been a lot of discussion among the faculty and teaching assistants during this faculty orientation week on issues of integrity – integrity amongst college students, and in the Ghanaian society in general. For example, it has been frequently pointed out that in secondary schools, students are often encouraged to cheat – teachers give the answers to students, teachers encourage students to work together on exams, etc. At the (“typical”) University, it is more of the same, much more. Some teaching assistants described situations, that they witnessed, of exams in which one person wrote the exam, and other students crowded around and simply copied what was on the paper – sometimes forgetting to even change references to the person’s name. Or of a photocopied paper turned in with one name marked out and another name written in. Or of professors giving grades for sexual favours. Recently in the paper was a story in which a person received a “B” in a class they were not even enrolled in. So, this is business as usual, in academe, in Ghana.
And, to some extent, to some large extent apparently, it is business as usual in the society as well. For example, our housing, in which the University paid one year’s rent in advance, but it was leased out from under them, although both parties signed a legal contract and money was paid. Or, of a business that was leased space for a certain term, but as soon as the business was successful the occupant is kicked out and the owner’s brother comes in to run the business in place of the tenant. Etc. Bribes are also expected, at many levels. But, it’s not just “corruption” as we know it, or understand it. It’s often more difficult, more complicated than that. Take, for example, the student who is at Ashesi on scholarship, their grade point average has dipped, and they are in fear of being asked to leave the University. They are in a class that they believe they will fail, and leaving the University will bring disgrace on themselves and their entire family. They ask their friend, also in the class, for help. Not much help; just sit next to me in the exam, and don’t cover your paper. It will help me. It will help my family. There is a real ethic to help each other here. There is no welfare, no social security. We depend on each other. Help. Who would say no to a very reasonable request?
Well, Ashesi University students, that’s who. At least, if they want to stay Ashesi students. After the first semester there is a zero tolerance for cheating, and in the first semester, there is clemency for non-blatant plagiarism only. They say there has to be this initial tolerance, or they would have no students! This truly is a radically different practice that the norm here. It’s not that they are bad people, bad students. They simply don’t know another system. It’s the system they have been brought up with, the one in which they know how to operate; you help me, I help you. But here at Ashesi, there is a lot of emphasis during freshman orientation, and in individual classes, on issues of academic honesty and integrity, to help students become successful in the Ashesi way. In fact, I’ve been asked (we all are requested) to devote the whole first hour of every course to discuss what is expected in the class, with emphasis on academic integrity. What is allowed, what isn’t, what constitutes cheating, what is plagiarism, etc. They are pounded with this from day one, and, unfortunately, they see friends who are expelled for violations, or see their own grade lowered for less blatant incursions. There are classes in leadership and ethics. And, hopefully the students who eventually graduate are changed, and, it is hoped, will work to change society. That is the real vision of Ashesi University.
Bt the way, I recently learned that Ashesi has purchased 100 acres outside of Accra and plans to build a proper campus as resources become available. How blessed I am to be part of this ground-breaking university now, in it’s earlier stages. I can only imagine returning in 20 years and seeing what it has become. Find out more about Ashesi University College at http://www.ashesi.org or http://www.ashesi.edu.gh.