Navigating the Politics of the Academe

Diversity and Triumphs of Navigating the Terrain of Academe

ISBN: 978-1-78973-608-3, eISBN: 978-1-78973-607-6

ISSN: 1479-3644

Publication date: 30 May 2019


The chapter addresses the questions surrounding the politics of the academe as a reflective process. The three authors’ experiences are very different – spanning from tenured professor to sessional instructor to professor in an African university. The narratives from the authors inform the readers of their goals to join the academy as faculty; their job search; being members of the staff and then; their experiences as members of the teaching force at various universities. The chapter is based on their experiences of navigating the politics of the academe. This chapter provides their narratives of what it means to be a professor, mentor, colleague, and researcher. Each story is told from their particular standpoint: two females and one male teaching in North American universities and Africa, respectively, two Black and one racialized female who can pass, but cannot because of her name. The analysis will address numerous complications involved in addressing expectations, establishing common grounds as educators from an international perspective, and providing narratives of how we have managed to maintain our goals and aspirations as members of the academe. The tensions involved will be problematized and explored from within the context of the academy and the associated constraints therein (Tatum, 1999). The objective of this chapter is to theorize the significance of navigating the politics of the academe to deflate arising tensions that may delay your passion for teaching. The chapter is informed by an anticolonial theoretical framework in light of converges and divergences of varying colonial contexts embedded in colonial Canadian society. The anticolonial framework draws on the specific settler-colonial Canadian context (Tuck & Yang, 2012). The chapter is divided into six parts: (1) introduction that provides a general overview of what it means to be faculty at a university, (2) situating ourselves, (3) theoretical framework, (4) Universities in general and more specifically, Canadian system and Kenyan, (5) discussion that provides an analysis or synthesis of our experiences, and (6) conclusion.



Wane, N.N., Abawi, Z.E. and Ndwiga, Z.N. (2019), "Navigating the Politics of the Academe", Diversity and Triumphs of Navigating the Terrain of Academe (Diversity in Higher Education, Vol. 23), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 87-106.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited


Colonialism in the academe is interwoven into the very institutional structure, culture, epistemology, and processes such as tenure, curriculum, and leadership. The colonial encounter between the colonizer and the colonized subject disrupted ways of knowing, learning, and teaching for most Indigenous peoples of the world, if they survived at all (Wane, 2005). The Indigenous institutions of learning were the most affected by the colonial encounter. Once the conquest was “over” and the non-European children were under the colonial education system, the colonizers could breathe a sigh of relieve. Colonialism had assumed new forms and subtler disguises such as the creation of different structures or states, which could be manipulated from a distance; it is eloquently stated by in Fanon’s work in 1994:

Colonialism is not satisfied merely by hiding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes a dialectical significance today. When we consider the efforts made to carry out the cultural estrangement so characteristic of the colonial epoch, we realize that nothing has been left to chance and that the total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness. The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives’ head the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation and hostility. (Fanon, 1994, p. 37)

Fanon’s writings advance that for natives, who wished to reclaim their own culture and sovereignty, there is no one formula to achieve that, except through decolonization. He indicated that the liberation of a nation is one thing, but the methods, and popular content of the fight are another. Today, we find colonialism both manifests and perpetuates itself through the privileging of dominant Eurocentric epistemologies as legitimate truths at the expense of Indigenous epistemologies. These very processes of domination and oppression facilitate the creation, polarization, and politics between the self and the “other” (Dei, 2007; Dei & Kempf, 2006; Said, 1978). The process of racialization embedded in the construction of social identities cannot be divorced from the academe. Although the postsecondary education (PSE) landscape in Canada has become increasingly racialized and Indigenous, faculty representation, leadership, and epistemology are dominated by Euro-Western scholarship and ideology. Several scholars call for Indigenous knowledge recovery and resurgence within the academe as an anticolonial project (Corntassel, 2013; Dei, 2007; Dua et al., 2016; Wilson, 2013), which must be embarked upon and initiated from non-dominant voices. However, educational institutions in Africa are all manned by Africans. The only difference is that these institutions are extremely Eurocentric. They do not have a space for African Indigenous epistemologies of ways or ways of knowing. William (1975) in Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 bc to 2000 ad suggests that it is only from our own history that we can learn what our strengths were and especially in what particular aspect we are weak and vulnerable. It is that from history we can become at once the foundation and guiding light for united efforts in seriously planning what we should do about now.

The narratives shared in this chapter highlight the ongoing silencing and oppression of racialized and gendered faculty in North American universities, while the African universities privilege Western education model. The intersectionalities of otherness, which inherently silence Indigenous ways of knowing, racialized and gendered voices. Our narratives show the importance of decolonizing higher education in order to bring silenced voices to the forefront of institutional transformation through an anticolonial thought.

We explore our experiences as a reflective process because each one of us has had extremely different experience depending on the university and the tenure of our position. The narratives from the authors inform the readers what their aspiration are/were being members of the staff. We base our chapter on how we have been navigating the politics of the academe. In this chapter, we reflect on what it means to be a professor, mentor, colleague, and researcher. Each story is told from their particular standpoint: two females and one male teaching in North American universities and Africa, respectively, two Black and one racialized female who can pass, but cannot because of her name. In the case of the racialized, White passing female, she is light skinned and can pass off as European, however, because she has an Arabic, Muslim name she is marked by this identity. The analysis addresses numerous complications involved in addressing expectations, establishing common grounds as educators from an international perspective, and providing narratives of how we have managed to maintain our goals and aspirations as members of the academe. The tensions involved are problematized and explored from within the context of the academy and the associated constraints therein (Tatum, 1999). The objective of this chapter is to theorize the significance of navigating the politics of the academe to deflate arising tensions that may delay your passion for teaching. The chapter is informed by an anticolonial theoretical framework in light of converges and divergences of varying colonial contexts embedded in colonial Canadian society. The chapter is divided into six parts: (1) introduction that provides a general overview of what it means to be faculty at a university, (2) situating ourselves, (3) theoretical framework, (4) universities in general and more specifically, Canadian system & Kenyan, (5) discussion that provides an analysis or synthesis of our experiences, and (6) conclusion. The introduction has provided an overview of our chapter and the expectations therein. The following section presents the theoretical framework that we situate our discussion, namely anticolonial framework.


Anticolonial thought is a form of intellectual and philosophical response to colonial ways that were imposed on Indigenous populations of the world by the Europeans. In the anticolonial educational thought, our agency is to search for ways of dismantling colonialism visible and invisible (Wane, 2006, 2009). Anticolonial thought is a complex ideology that takes different form to resist colonial indoctrination. It is an undertaking that forges the colonized subjects to question their subjectivity and the subordination of their knowledge (Nkomo, 2011). As Loomba (2005) has noted, anticolonial intellectuals like Senghor were not just interested in questioning colonial discourse but also in the possibility of social change. Anticolonial theory utilizes Indigenous knowledge as a point of origin for decolonizing the academe (Dei, 2006) and “finding a place to stand” or “claiming space” (Wane & Cairncross, 2013, p. 96). Anticolonial thought is a social theory that ruptures and problematizes the experiences of slavery, migration, suppression colonialism, and neocolonialism. It is the writing of our resistance (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 1995; Dei, 2000; Wane, 2005) and activism. An anticolonial thought comprises of theorizing of issues emerging from colonial relations. This framework challenges the institutional powers and imperial structures that have prevented many colonized subjects from realizing the importance of dismantling the colonial structures. The frameworks referred to as the rewriting of history and the negating of images have created “alternative paradigms” and theories that continue to depict Indigenous knowledge and skills as unsuitable for formal discourses. In order to conceptualize the mechanisms by which the Indigenous knowledge can be a site of resistance in the Ivory Tower, we must first understand anticolonial thought from a theoretical standpoint. Dei and Kempf (2006) described anticolonial thought as:

An approach to theorizing colonial and recolonial relations and the implications of imperial structures on the processes of knowledge production and validation, the understanding of Indigeneity, and the pursuit of agency, resistance, and subjective politics (p. 2).

Anticolonial thought, as a tool for decolonizing, is complex; however, in writing this chapter, we feel that it is important to examine the salient features of colonial machinery. Linda Smith, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Frank Fanon, and Patrice Malidoma Some among others explore the different ways of colonization and especially the more subversive ways in which peoples’ minds were colonized (Wane, 2005). These anticolonial thinkers suggest that discipline, inculcation of an alien culture, foreign language, and education were ways in which minds were colonized. For instance, Fanon felt being colonized by a language had larger implications for one’s consciousness. He argued that “ To speak […] means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization” (1994, pp. 17–18). Speaking French for Fanon meant he was coerced into accepting the collective consciousness of the French, which identifies blackness with evil and sin. And as such, embracing another person’s language was the highest form of colonization. This is because one is denied what is of essence to ones’ cultural growth. Fanon, like Du Bois before him, advocated the use of text as a liberating tool. Wa Thiong’o laments his loss due to colonial education:

Language was not a mere string of words. It had a suggestive power well beyond the immediate and lexical meaning […] the languages, through images and symbols, gave us a view of the world, but it had a beauty of its own. The home and the field were then our primary school […] and then I went to school, a colonial school, and this harmony was broken. The language of my education was no longer the language of my culture. (Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, 1986)

The recovery of Indigenous knowledge is vital to the decolonization of academia, as colonized and formerly colonized bodies must rupture the Western ideology of progress and capitalism as success (Dei & Kempf, 2006; Kawano, 2011). The reaffirmation of Indigenous knowledge that has been silenced and devalued by the Eurocentric academe is one which involves the challenging of hegemonic Euro-Western epistemologies as the only way of knowing, the problematization of the devaluation of African scholarship on a global scale and solidarity between colonized and former colonized bodies. According to Wa Thiong’o (1986), language and spirituality are imperative to the re-centering of Indigenous knowledge. Wa Thiong’o suggested that through the manipulation and destruction of language and spirituality, the colonizer is able to subordinate and colonize. As such, the Euro-Western academe is devoid of spirituality as knowledge, invaluable ancestral histories transmitted through oral storytelling, as well as the valuing and cherishing of the connection between the natural world and community (Iseke, 2013). The following section introduces the three authors as well as their subject location.

Zuhra Abawi

As a sessional instructor teaching in several universities (two Canadians, one American), I cannot ignore or downplay the significant shift of the North American university, its purposes, mandates, conception of knowledge and education itself, as well as the issue of precarity which has come to greatly impact my personal and professional life. Canadian PSE has been redefined as a commodity rather than a public good in the current era of neoliberal, academic capitalism (Giroux, 2014; Rajagopal, 2002). Neoliberal retrenchment from public services and goods has been especially devastating with regard to PSE, as government funding retrenchment has warranted a demand for a pool of contingent academics to teach largely undergraduate courses. In the Canadian context, there is no Federal regulation or oversight of education, whether K-12 or PSE education, as it is the sole responsibility of the provincial government to make funding allocation decisions (Jones, 2009). The trend of hiring precarious faculties, who are vastly overworked and underpaid, was a chief strategy to save the university from having to hire full-time, tenure-track professors while simultaneously hiking tuition fees (Giroux, 2014; Muzzin, 2008). Evans and Gibb referred to precarious work as:

Forms of work characterized by atypical employment contracts, limited or no social benefits and statutory entitlements, high degrees of job insecurity, low job tenure, low wages and high risks of occupational injury and disease. From a worker’s point of view, precarious work is related to uncertain, unpredictable and risky employment. (2009, p. 4)

Precarious labor, once a plight faced by low-skilled employment, has made its way into the professions such as teaching, nursing, librarianship, as well as academia. Precarious work is employment which is characterized as low-paid, temporary, contract-based unpredictable and without benefits or job security (Evans & Gibb, 2009). Racialized and Indigenous women are significantly more likely to be impacted by precarious work as well as unemployment, fueling the racialization of poverty (Block & Galabuzi, 2011). According to the authors, racialized women are 48% more likely to be unemployed that White males. Furthermore, racialized and Indigenous women are virtually absent from leadership teams at Canadian universities. Seatter (2016) found that among Canada’s 15 research-intensive universities, 8 consist of White male leadership teams, four have some racialized male leadership participation, three are dominated by White women, and racialized and Indigenous women have no representation. Despite an increasingly diverse population in Ontario and Canada, with 22.3% of all Canadians identifying as “visible minorities” and another 4.3% as Indigenous, Canadian universities are endemically White and male (Dua & Bhanji, 2012; Statistics Canada, 2016; Whalen, 2017). While racialized women hold some 18.7% of Doctoral degrees, they only comprise 3.4% of the tenure-track professoriate (Kobayashi, 2009). Indigenous professors (all genders) comprise a mere 0.7% of all faculty members in Canada (Dua, 2009). Furthermore, as James (2009/2012) suggests, university employment equity policies serve to benefit White women, as they are drawn up by White males, and adhere to color-blind narratives of meritocracy (Ahmed, 2012; Kobayashi, 2009). Thus, the discourse of diversity becomes one to shield White privilege in the Ivory Tower, as discussing racism becomes harmful to the universities (as corporations) branding and marketing image (Ahmed, 2012; Dua, 2009). As Flaherty (2016) notes:

As faculty jobs have become more stratified with the growth of non-tenure-track positions over the same period, most gains for underrepresented minority groups have been in the most precarious positions. That is, not on the tenure track. (p. 1)

The intersectionality between race and gender among racialized and Indigenous women faculty presents specific challenges in terms of carrying out their roles as academics. The most significant barrier to their roles as academics is the overcoming of oppression fueled by gendered racism in their classrooms (McGowan, 2000; Nast & Pulido, 2004; Pittman, 2010). Pittman (2010) suggests that gendered racism manifests itself through higher workloads offloaded on racialized women faculty than their male and White colleagues, the expectation that they will take on timely mentorship roles and serve on race-specific committees. Pittman’s study also found that racialized women are much more likely to receive negative student evaluations, which are vital for securing renewed teaching contracts. McGowan’s work focused specifically on experiences of Black women faculty, and she indicated three phenomena faced by Black women in relation to interactions with White students. These included “1) critiques of teaching effectiveness, 2) challenges to faculty authority, and 3) lack of respect from students” (p. 186). Pittman’s study outlined key themes in terms of racialized women faculty and classroom experience. The most prevalent are having their education, credentials, and competency challenged, the disrespect of students of their scholarly expertise, and finally, threats and intimidation. The oppression facing racialized and Indigenous women faculty both undermines their well-being, their scholarly activities, and fundamental right to work free from harassment, sexism, and racism. Perhaps, the most distressing stipulation is that of the lack of community building and solidarity possibilities for racialized women faculty due to their invisibility, exclusion from the services and benefits of tenure-track faculty, and fear of speaking out and being denied a contract renewal.

Starting a career in the Canadian university context is one fraught with nepotism, performativity and marginalization. As an emerging academic flung between three universities in the era of the neoliberal assault on contract faculty, I have attempted to maintain a positive attitude, feeling grateful to have my foot in the door. I have been told that I am a perfect candidate for teaching teacher education, having both a Bachelor of Education, Diploma in Early Childhood Education and years of experience working extensively in elementary schools. Having completed graduate work earning both a Master of Education and Doctorate of Education, I felt on track to actualizing my dreams of being one of the few Afghan-Canadian female scholars. As I have embarked on this journey as a sessional lecturer of teacher educators, I have witnessed and experienced the myriad complexities and intersectionalities of the “in between-ness” of my identity and the hegemonic teacher identity of the White, feminine, heteronormative body. Being a White-passing woman, it is easy for me to blend into the dominant teacher identity. However, this almost barrier-free pass is met with subtle curiosity and questions with the purpose of trying to ascertain and understand the binary between the color of my skin and my “foreign” name.

Since beginning my career in academia, I have been questioned in terms of my knowledge, my heritage, my marital status, as well as my age. I have been told that I “look too young” to hold a doctorate, to have children, and to be teaching university students, some being older than myself. My heritage is something I take great pride in and one in which I shall never downplay in honor of my ancestors. I generally receive the stereotypical assumptions that I must be Lebanese or Syrian as they are the “light-skinned Arabs.” I am quick to inform students and colleagues that I am not Arab and have no affiliation with Arab identity or heritage. I am mixed Afghan, English/Scottish; however, I always claim being Afghan-Canadian first. When people hear “Afghanistan,” their minds conjure up images of bombs, terrorism, and fanaticism. As a student in one of my teacher education courses was surprised that my Afghan, Muslim refugee father allowed me to pursue higher education. Being an “othered” body in an overwhelmingly white field, I have been told by White male teacher candidates to “tone down” my emphasis on social justice education, my experiences of blatant resistance have been downplayed by my superiors and I have faced open hostility and rudeness during my lectures, such as students challenging me when assigning a task in class. Furthermore, I have learned that in this competitive pursuit for academic jobs, I must perform whiteness; I must silence the Afghan in my DNA and ascribe to the Anglo-Canadian norms of the dominant group, of which my mother represents. My precarious position without tenure means that I am at the mercy of student evaluations in order to receive a renewed contract and make a dent in the overrepresentation of White faculty. As such, I have consciously made allies with the few racialized women in my departments (both tenured and non-tenured) to avoid being demoralized and pushed out of the White-dominated Ivory Tower. My first experience of allyship as a sessional faculty member was during a first-year teacher education course I taught at an Ontario Faculty of Education. I had sought this solidarity after feeling marginalized by several of my White male students who had been disrespectful, rude, and hostile throughout the semester. The men in my class had demonstrated this behavior by among various other displays: emulating aggressive body language, speaking to me with raised voices, storming out of the classroom, and slamming the door for being told to regroup. The culture of marginalization has been discussed by several authors who have documented the prevalence of verbal, sexual, and physical abuse and contended that such abuses are more likely to be suffered by racialized women faculty than other groups (Nast & Pulido, 2004; Pittman, 2010; Verjee, 2013). Verjee (2013) outlines the pervasiveness of racism and microaggressions encountered by racialized and Indigenous faculty:

The daily onslaught of these kinds of micro aggressions manifests as self-doubt and low self worth because these experiences inform people of colour that they are not respected or granted the same kind of courtesy as dominant groups. They are reminded over and over that they are “less” than and inferior or unintelligent, and some begin to believe it and internalize these constructions of otherness. (p. 25)

I had become aware that I was not alone in encountering these microaggressions in the department as two other racialized women faculties (one being Indigenous) were also being mistreated by students. One of the few tenured racialized women faculty allied with us and fought to have our voices heard, which was a challenge being that the Deans were both White women who had brushed our concerns aside for months. When detailing the sexism and racism that had become prevalent in my class and had also upset many of my students who had come to me to express their horror, the Dean told me that I should give the class up to someone else. Ultimately, the Dean’s suggestion meant that my body, my name, my embodied “otherness,” or hybridity was problematized as “too radical” and that the teacher candidates needed to feel “comfortable.” I was effectively being pushed out rather than being supported; however, as the Dean reasoned, I would still be paid for the course. My experience outlines the dominance of whiteness and neoliberalism in the Canadian academe, by pushing out those who do not conform to the status quo of whiteness and to those who challenge and push boundaries, thus causing discomfort for students as paying clientele. This dehumanizing experience made me reflect on how the negative outcomes would likely be compounded had I not been White-passing, as well as how the power I hold through my embodied White privilege can be used to create a wedge between myself and other racialized faculty in creating possibilities of resistance through solidarity. As Henry et al. (2016) asserted, universities conjure a utopian raceless and genderless space by encouraging and calling for diverse faculty members, yet subordinate faculty who fail to “play the game” (p. 7). The authors articulate the dichotomy of the university in enhancing and promoting diversity and employment equity as follows: “they may open up doors but they may also put up walls and police boundaries in ways that limit access, change and thereby conserve the prevailing order” (p. 4). The policing of racialized bodies in the academe is manifested in the invisibility of racialized (particularly Black women) and Indigenous women faculty in Canadian universities and the overrepresentation of White male tenured faculty and administrators.

Zachary Njagi Ndwiga

University Education goes along with approximately four or more years of learning in Kenya. The resultant acquisition of cognitive, affective, as well as psychomotor skill improves individual productivity and earnings, with gains for aggregate income in the economy. As acknowledged by Kellaghan, Greaney, and Murray (2009), measuring student learning outcomes has become increasingly recognized not only for monitoring success of a school system but also for improving education quality. Information on student achievement can be used to inform a wide variety of education policies, not limited to designing and implementation of programs but also on improvement of pedagogical process.

Globally, there have been concerted efforts to find ways of improving access to quality higher education alongside mechanisms of improving access to basic education. This is based on the fact that education brings benefits to the human society as a whole. The level of knowledge and skills that individuals need to function in any country, irrespective of the country’s stage of development, forms the cornerstone of economic development (UNESCO, 2012). Arguably, an educated citizenry is key to not only social stability but also political stability as well within and between nations.

This global concern for education has been reiterated at a series of international conferences dating back to 1990 World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, and subsequent framework for action that defined targets and strategies aimed at meeting the basic learning needs of all by the year 2000 (UNESCO, 2012). According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), Kenya has not only ratified these conventions but also has domesticated them through legislative and policy pronouncements (MOE, 2008). This endeavor is reflected in the MOE vision “to have globally competitive education, training and research for Kenya’s sustainable development” and mission, “to provide, promote, coordinate the provision of quality education, training and research for the empowerment of individuals to become responsible and competent citizens who value education as a lifelong process” (MOE, 2008). Thus, quality education and training imply significant contribution to economic growth, better employment opportunities, and expansion of income-generating activities.

The aforementioned efforts thus explain the enormous growth in educational opportunities and literacy levels in Kenya over the last two decades. While depicting the general expansion of educational opportunities across the levels, there has been a recent demand in the expansion of higher education across various regions of the country. This sudden impulse has created a demand for higher education prompting the government to take urgent measures for this need. Initially, the government allowed for the admission of privately sponsored students in the public universities, while at the same time encouraging the establishment of private universities within the acceptable rules for higher education. This demand remained unfulfilled and the government was inevitably forced to open more public universities and subsidizing government-sponsored students in private universities. This expansion in university education and training is in tandem with population growth and the demand for university places and research facilities (MOE, 2008).

The unprecedented demand for higher education and rapid expansion of university of education has been characterized by a mismatch between training and acquired skills by university graduates as posited by MOE (2008). This has been compounded further by universities’ inabilities to rationalize academic programs that can create centers of excellence or niche areas that place a university at a comparative advantage. In addition, the universities have been experiencing challenges to put mechanisms for regular review of their programs and acquisition and maintaining appropriate and relevant staff for the academic programs.

According to the MOE survey conducted in 2008, the majority of candidates who acquired minimum university entry requirements were not admitted through the central placement agency, still accessed university education through privately sponsored mode of study. The popularity of this mode puts into question the quality of education offered in these institutions of higher learning. At a glance, as depicted in sampled universities in the Table 1, the number of students admitted through this self-sponsored mode is too high for effective provision of quality education and training give that there has not been additional capacity in staff development to match the extra numbers. The famous tutorial sessions when I was an undergraduate in one of the popular university in Kenya are no longer there. Courses used to be introduced by professors but most universities especially the newly established and private ones hardly have a single professor in their faculties. It has also been noted that in some universities, courses are taught by PhD candidates, and in some cases, engagement of Master’s or undergraduate holders is not uncommon.

Table 1.

Public Universities Student Enrollment by Mode of Study in 2007/2008.

University JAB SSP Total
University of Nairobi 16,394 18,545 34,939
Kenyatta University 9,586 2,968 12,554
Moi University 9,208 5,455 14,663
Egerton University 10,702 1,467 12,169
JKUAT 2,598 5,458 8,056
Maseno University 3,193 1,807 5,000
MMUST 950 1,219 2169
Total 52,631 36,919 89,550

Source: The Development of Education Report MOE November 2008; p29.

Despite the restructuring of the Commission for Higher Education (CHE) to a commission (Commission for University Education – CUE) that mandated to effectively coordinate quality assurance services in all universities, implementing such strategies has been a challenge due to slow adoption by universities and complexity of non-compliance characterized in many universities hitherto. Notably, over a long time, private universities have interpreted credit waiver differently leading to admission of unqualified students to their program. One such incidence was when graduate teachers from some private universities were rejected by the employer – The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) due to admission with lower grades, inadequate credit hours covered or inappropriate subject combination. It is against such background that CUE developed university standards and guidelines to address, charter, and accreditation awards, university governance, program accreditation, academic staff establishment, quality teaching, and financial resources among others (CUE, 2014).

If I may single out quality teaching as an area being addressed in this chapter, the whole idea of employing methods that promote creativity and critical thinking has been casually been undertaken over the years. In majority of the institutions, the academia lack the academic capacity expected to function in the university due to a number of reasons; either the classes are too large or the classes lack balancing between self-sponsored mode of study and government students, “moonlighting” or part-timing, teaching load, little time for research, among others. These challenges among others have yet to be fully addressed by the CUE guideline on quality teaching (CUE, 2014, pp. 10–11). My experience in a private university shows that the situation is worsened by the balance between optimizing the staff available and revenue collection to sustain the university. It is not a surprise to see some private universities in verge of closure when CUE rules have started biting. However, to cushion them against eminent closure, the government has, over the last two years, extended admission of government-sponsored students to private universities. But this begs the question how long will this last given that the government has also introduced stringent measures against leakage of examinations thus significantly reducing numbers of student who qualify for university education.

Another facility that has been open to abuse by universities especially the private universities is the Open, Distance, and E-learning (ODEL) and school-based programs. While such facilities are expected to bring education closer to people as anticipated by CUE (2014), some universities have been cited to run facilities that do not meet the standards while school-based programs have been hastened for students to complete the studies with questionable credit hours largely compromising the quality and standards of university education. Besides, this faculties have also been cited to be too lenient on students on such modes and rarely endeavor to engage in academic rigor anticipated.

On postgraduate studies, universities have not been doing well either, while acknowledging that old universities like University of Nairobi, Kenyatta university, Moi University, Egerton University, and Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology have tried to streamline their postgraduate programs, overstaying in the programs is still a phenomenon in some schools. The situation in most private universities and newly established universities is inadequate academia to supervise graduate students and hastened supervision leaves room for undesired research projects. Instances have been cited where some supervisors do not engage graduate students to carry out rigorous research but only sign thesis for submission to the postgraduate boards. However, this could be something of the past. Thanks to the new CUE guidelines that prescribe conditions for the award of postgraduate studies. Besides, universities have been required to come up with antiplagiarism mechanisms to check on copying of other peoples’ work.

From pedagogical point of view, it is prudent for university lecturers to operate within own and professionally held views and beliefs that propagate good education and effective teaching as alluded by Moore (2000). In this sense, they are expected to be charismatic in approach, displaying communication skills coupled with sound understanding of and enthusiastic about their subject area. They are also expected to be competent by not only having deep discourse in their subject area but able to recognize how learning takes place so as to provide for different kind of learners. As such, it is imperative that the different modes of study envisaged by universities call for different learning styles and building capacity to cater for them will significantly reduce the antagonistic views that deepen the hiatus between the full-time students and the self-sponsored students. The private universities on their hand ought to keep at bay the concept of university as an enterprise and focus on the competences gained by the students.

In conclusion, it is in common parlance that rapid expansion in higher education in Kenya for the last two decades has presented myriad challenges and prospects as far as access and quality of higher training is concerned. The challenges range from inadequate capacity to cater for the ever-growing demand for university education, the mismatch between skills and economic demands, disparity in admission criteria and terms of admission, and misinterpretation of credit transfers among universities among others. It is imperative that the government endeavors to institutionalize the CUE guidelines alongside other appropriate policies that are in tandem with the demand for university education and maintaining quality education, training, and research in the institutions of higher learning. It is expected that the current curriculum reforms will be a greater extent to reorientate the thinking in university education so as to cultivate the lost academic rigor, creativity, critical thinking, and innovations that will transform the country to a developed country as anticipated in the vision 2030.

Njoki Wane

I do not know how many people I have narrated my story about wanting to be a professor since I was eight years old. That was my dream. However, that dream took twists and turns to be achieved. I was born and raised in a small village in rural Kenya. I did not speak or understand a word of English until I went to a boarding school in grade 5. By the time I was completing high school, I was fluent in English and I looked forward to joining any university that would train me to be a professor. I must say, it is good to dream. It is good to make a wish list because today, I am a full-time professor at a North American university. Please sit and relax as I narrate my experiences in the academy.

As an African woman, I have always asked myself many questions: What does it mean for any Black woman to inhabit the institutional space of Western academies? How do they navigate as intellectuals the relations of power involved in the inclusion of knowledge from the margins? How do they generate their own theories and practice from their own educational standpoints? What are the consequences of generating research that the academy judges as marginal? What are some of the negotiations we have to engage in as Black women in the academy? How are Black females and their work constructed in the Canadian multicultural discourse? What strategies do they employ to challenge their silencing in the academy? The answers to these questions are complex but I pose them as guiding principles to direct my examination of the challenges that I face as Black female faculty. As a Black woman in the academy whose aim has been to carve out critical spaces for others and myself, these are important questions to ask.

I believe that within the oppressive enclave of Eurocentric academy, Black women can fulfill the historic role of freedom fighters. We need to learn from the strength and resistance of such figures as Ida B. Wells, Winnie Mandela, and Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela in his inaugural address lit the freedom flames not only for South Africa but also for the peoples of the world. Mandela’s words:

We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all […] will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts […] the sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. (Benjamin, 1997, p. 4)

As Benjamin asks, can “so glorious a human achievement” be translated into an authentic reality in the academy? “Who can and will lead the way?” (1997, p. 4). Black women have a long tradition as educators and liberators; it is necessary for us to reclaim these traditions in navigating through the “isms” in the academy.

Black women have been excluded from the academy as definers, producers, and conduits of knowledge about realities. It is generally accepted in Canadian culture that men can be powerful, assertive, ambitious, and achieving. Many are uncomfortable when women and in this particular instance, Black women, want to exert their position and demand to have their say in knowledge production or dissemination. A woman’s work is often not given the same credit as a man’s; her accomplishments may be ignored or, conversely, scrutinized very carefully, or she may be perceived as moving too fast. However, as more Black women enter the academy, it is imperative that we challenge the Eurocentric and androcentric ways of thinking and knowing (Samuel & Wane, 2005).

Black women faculties in Canadian universities have claimed that neither their background, history, nor presence has been entirely accepted or recognized on campus (Carty, 1991). Indeed, many Black women have expressed in different ways that about their marginalization and the fact that they are not able to assert their full authority as university professors. More specifically, Linda Carty (1991) endorses the notion that the racism and sexism experienced by faculties of color is brutal and severe. Linda Carty, a faculty member reiterated:

There is little difference between what we experience on the streets as Black women and the experiences that we have inside the university […] the university’s common-sense appeal to reason and science may take the rough edges off or sediment the particular behaviour but the impact is no less severe. (1991, p. 15)

Haideh Mogissi (1994) drawing on her experience of racism and sexism in academic practice succinctly asserts that racism can be both intellectual and social, impacting the respect, recognition, and authority of minority faculty members. It is interesting to note that racism of intellectuals is more harmful, because it requires that we put our energies into a battle that need not and should not exist.

The Purpose of University Education

The purpose of world universities is to equip students with skills useful in the workplace and to further human knowledge and understanding of the world. University education has a special place in the world. For instance, medieval universities, the precursors to the modern Western universities, had their roots in North and West Africa. This is important to know as we trouble how we, as racialized subjected and as colonized subjects, struggle to create a meaningful space in these institutions. The medieval university archetype that existed included the research library at Alexandria, Egypt. The library housed nearly a half a million reading materials on rolls of papyri. The large repertoire in its collection attracted scholars from the Egyptian, Hellenic, Roman, and Judaic worlds, which came to sample its rich collection in a variety of disciplines. In this library, we see the beginnings of publishing and dissemination of scholarly information before the advent of academic presses. Further, the library was a harbinger of intellectual scholarship that would blossom and inspire European Renaissance (Munene, 2015). Furthermore, they gave the Western world scientific rationalism, the scientific principles of scholarly investigation. It is important to note that there were fewer than 100 universities in the West as late as the eighteenth century (Munene, 2015).

In Canada, we have little information about universities. Their histories have tended to be in-house studies, written by scholars within those institutions. In Africa, the history of current universities is tied to the history of colonization. The contemporary African universities have their beginnings in the colonial period. If the medieval university represented the best synergy between Indigenous knowledge and higher education in the continent, the colonial university epitomized the first intellectual assault on this synergistic engagement. For all intents and purposes, the colonial university was never meant to empower the Indigenous people and address challenges confronting their lives. Rather, it was incorporated to serve the interests of the colonial masters, the foreign invaders of the continent. For instance, in Kenya, the colonial university’s footprints were marked by the establishment of the Royal Technical College, Nairobi in 1956, the precursor to the current University of Nairobi (Wane and Abawi, 2018). Fast forward to date, what is amazing is the fact that, the university education that we have today, is based on a European model and many scholars do not even question its origins. It is in these spaces the three of us have dedicated our services unequivocally.


Colonialism is both foreign and oppressive (Dei, 2007; Wilson, 2013) and cannot be separated from the state apparatus, as the university operates as an ambassador of the state. McCaffrey (2013) discussed the neoliberal Eurocentrism grounded in the tenure processes that devalue Indigenous knowledge and traditions in academic appointments. McCaffrey noted that the disempowering nature of the process leaves many with little choice but to abandon their Indigeneity and thus assimilate and perform whiteness should they wish to be considered for tenured positions. He narrated, “the tenure process has a long and deeply embedded history in the learning institutions of the Euro-Western world with accompanying Euro-Western ideology and conservatism” (2013, p. 69). Dei (2012) asserts that colonial diasporic bodies, in particular African diasporic populations must interrupt their own complicity to and mimicry of colonialism by valuing African knowledge as “liberatory” (p. 103). Dei calls for African scholars to undertake this work by consulting local sources of knowledge, such as cultural community networks and traditional practices. Dei infers that this resistance to Euro-Western dominant knowledge sources must be enacted to “resist the everyday devaluation, denial and negation of the creativity, agency and resourcefulness and knowledge systems of African peoples” (2012, p. 106).

Wane and Cairncross (2013) illustrates the complexities involved in decolonizing the academe through the embracing of one’s Indigenous knowledge and identity. Wane and Cairncross (2013) describes decolonization as a process (2008), one which takes place gradually by reclaiming ones buried identity and culture which is degraded through the colonial gaze to ascribing to whiteness and Eurocentric knowledge. Moreover, she calls for the revaluing of Indigenous knowledge through discursive practices. For example, Indigenous medicine and spirituality are often portrayed as “alternative” and thus not at par with Western medicine and ideology. Wane and Cairncross (2013) upsets these discursive patterns by creating and facilitating awareness of Indigenous knowledge contributions, by “situating these alternative and transformative ways of knowing within the Western academy” (p. 96). Wane also addresses another complexity to decolonizing knowledge in the Western academe, beyond the pervasiveness of Eurocentric epistemologies. The additional challenge that has become fueled the duality between this Eurocentric dominance and academic capitalism in the era of the neoliberal university. The scholars address the commonalities between decolonization of the academe within an African context that has been plagued by European colonialism through the mobilization of Indigenous African knowledge, spirituality, and storytelling, as well as the mechanisms to decolonize the settler-colonial academe of Turtle Island. The resurgence of Indigenous knowledge in formerly colonized countries that continue to endure the devastating legacies of violence, ongoing imperialism, environmental racism, and devaluation and silencing of histories to reclaim and resist Euro-Western domination from a holistic approach. Within settler-colonial societies that continue to marginalize Indigenous bodies, communities, and traditions, the resurgence of Indigenous knowledge in the academy can be a site of possibility for recognition through an Indigenous paradigm rather than a settler-colonial narrative of recognition, history, and Indigeniety (Cannon, 2013; Tuck & Yang, 2012). As in the case of Turtle Island as well as colonialized lands across the Americas, Africa, and Asia, education was a focal point of genocide and the systematic destruction of heritages and knowledge. Therefore, decolonization must emerge with the reclaiming of Indigenous spiritualties, histories, land, and contributions to world scholarship.

Precarious Labor

Universities in Canada are unique in the sense that they do not fall under a national governance structure. Higher education in Canada is a provincially administrated domain whereby each province has autonomy over how postsecondary institutions are governed to suit their demographic needs (Jones, 2014). In its early colonial era, university education was reserved for British elites; however, following World War II, it became accessible to predominantly White Anglo veterans returning home looking for upward social mobility. Following the War, universities were well compensated by the provincial governments and enrollment jumped by 70% from 1941 to 1951 (Cameron, 1991). The massification of higher education grew as universities became secular and has continued to the present day (Jones, 2014). The 163 Canadian universities and 183 community colleges are overwhelmingly public institutions (CMEC, 2013).

Recently, universities across Canada have been plagued with neoliberal government retrenchment resulting in widespread funding cutbacks and soaring tuition fees. The new regime of higher education has replaced the traditional tenants of knowledge and thinking with business incentives to market higher education as a consumer good, with a university degree being reconceputalized as a commodified market good (Winkler, 2018). Additionally, this new regime has also amounted in the severe erosion of academic freedom and autonomy at the expense of managerialism and corporate governance structures (Munene, 2018).

The increasingly neoliberal university has morphed faculty into a two-tiered system of academic stratification, which is often informed by the intersectionality of gender and race (Henry et al., 2017; Wane & Abawi, 2018). The segregation of faculty between tenured and non-tenure track has vastly shifted faculty representation into two polarized categories: the tenured holding job security, funding for their research pursuits and influence within their respective departments. The latter, the non-tenured segment, are comprised of sessional or contract, per-term basis with no guarantee of contract renewal, limited or no benefits and low pay (Munene, 2018; Wane & Abawi, 2018). The hallmark of the new corporate university regime is the rise of precarious academic labor, with more than half of all undergraduate courses taught by contract faculty (Basen, 2014). The casualization of academic labor has disproportionately affected racialized and Indigenous faculty, especially women faculty (Henry et al., 2017; James, 2009) that mirrors trends of race and precarious labor in the general Canadian population. While the university student population in Canada is increasingly racialized and Indigenous, faculty representation from these demographics is grossly underrepresented (Dua et al., 2016; Henry et al., 2017). Not only are contract faculty precariously employed, but many are living in poverty. A report authored by Jones and Field (2013) indicated that just over 45% of contract faculty make over CAD $19,930 per annum, falling well below the Canadian middle-class income range of CAD $40,000–80,000 a year (p. 16). The overreliance of precariously employed contract faculty has far-reaching implications for the standards and quality of universities in Canada and strongly undermines Canada’s education system as an entity (Faucher, 2014; Foster, 2016). Perhaps the most devastating consequence of the marginalization of racialized and Indigenous faculty is the devaluation of their scholarship, experience, and epistemologies in academia. Furthermore, the growing majority of racialized and Indigenous students cannot access the knowledge and mentorship that speaks to their social location and thus must be immersed into the dominant Eurocentric norms of the Canadian university.


The chapter has captured the dispositions from the perspectives of three faculty members located in different spaces and embodying varying social locations. The common denominator of these faculty narratives is the experiences in navigating the neoliberal academe that is embedded in institutional racial hierarchies. Zachary’s dialogue outlines the silencing of Indigenous African as well as local Kenyan spiritualities and knowledge at the expense of the dominant mantra of “academic capitalism” (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2000). The privileging of Eurocentric commodified systems of education that prioritize enrollment numbers and fiscal incentives, the hallmarks of the surge of privatized education. The ideology of privatized education is juxtaposed in direct contrast with Indigenous East African epistemologies. The experiences of Njoki detail the everyday microaggressions of anti-Blackness on campus as well as Black female identities and feminisms, which are constantly silenced and devalued by the settler-colonial Canadian academe. The gross overrepresentation of White male faculty and academic leaders manifests itself in the epistemic dominance of Eurocentric ways of knowing and Western capitalism (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2017). The institutional devaluation of African, Indigenous, and non-Eurocentric as well as spiritual epistemologies subsequently polarizes European-centered pedagogies as superior at the expense of other worldviews (Mignolo, 2011). In the Canadian context, as noted by Zuhra, the overreliance of contract faculty has emulated into two-tiered faculty stratification that is largely impacted by race and gender. While equity and diversity legislation have existed throughout Canadian universities for more than 22 years, 81% of all university faculty are White and male, despite the growing diversity of university students (AWA, 2016). The overwhelming dominance of White bodies in the academe ensure that the perpetuation of White identities remain the status quo as the university is conceptualized as a neutral space (Henry et al., 2017). The ongoing legacies of colonialism in Kenya have operated under the colonized notion that universities must ascribe to whiteness in order for their education to be valued and legitimized.


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