To the Conference
I thank the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) for having appointed me to this position of leadership. I promise to do my best to advance the mission of this esteemed institution. I only seek the needed support of the Conference at every stage of our development so that we move together in the right direction.
To the Predecessors
I would also like to appreciate and pay tribute to the founders and subsequent implementers of the dream and vision of this youth. Particular mention are my Predecessors in this mantle namely Prof. Michel Lejeune, the first Vice Chancellor of UMU (13 years) and Prof. Charles Olweny, the second Vice chancellor of UMU, who has handed over to me after 8 years of service. You laid the foundations on which I will continue to build. Of course, when I mention these two guys, I also include the multitude of collaborators, partners and stakeholders especially parents and students, without whom the dream would never have been realized.
Having gone through a period of initiation and orientation, my vision for UMU shall be in line with the overall expectation of stakeholders, namely, A University of excellence in the execution of its mission upheld by high standards and quality services. Excellence has always been the defining moment of Catholic schools at all levels and indeed the landmark of Catholic Identity of Catholic Universities. In other words, one cannot think of a Catholic University devoid of excellence in the execution of its core functions of research, teaching and community engagement. Being the only Catholic University in Uganda, UMU shall seek to be known for its excellence, leading in upholding Christian ethical values, high academic standards and quality services in all its life and activities.
Relevance of a Catholic University
Allow me to underline the relevance of a Catholic University distinct from other universities. This is ably articulated by St. John Paul II, Pope, in his apostolic letter, Ex CordeEcclesiae (1990): generally the core task of a catholic university is the joy of searching for the truth, discovering it and communicating it. But, ”in the world today, characterized by such rapid developments in science and technology, the tasks of a Catholic University assume even greater importance and urgency. Science and technological discoveries create an enormous economic and industrial growth, but they also inescapably require the correspondingly necessary search for meaning in order to guarantee that new discoveries are used for the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole” (no. 7).
In this regard, the study of sciences should go hand in hand with appropriate attention to humanities. Science and technology without the study history, philosophy and humanities will not lead to proper authentic development and the civilization of love (first mentioned by Blessed Pope Paul VI on Pentecost Sunday, 17 May 1970).
Our country should not be misled to believe that science and technology is the sole answer to our perennial challenges of ignorance, disease and poverty. The relevance of the Catholic University shall be to marry the two so as to effect the ideal holistic development which is relevant to Africa. A recent international survey on the type of student on university campus reveals something of concern. To the question “What are you looking for at a prestigious Catholic University?” Over 50% respondentssimply said: “I need a certificate in order to get a good job!” This means that I may be on different wave-length far from what the student is about. A university that focuses on mere academic excellence falls short of the goal of holistic education.
UMU making a Difference
I note with great appreciation that right from inception (1993), UMU already engaged in the search for the right solutions to the so many moral, political and economic problems which arise in both the life of individuals and social relationships. This is clear in all programs, although greatly articulated in the mother Institute of Ethics and Development Studies. At the end of the day, when a student has attained a degree from UMU, that same person should go away with a sense of self-worth, with dignity and sense of self-confidence (spiced with Christian ethical values) to contribute something to make the world a better place, not only for him/herself, but also for the others, thus making a difference.
AfricaeMunus (2011) on Catholic Universities
Pope Benedict XVI, has encouraged the establishment of catholic universities throughout the African continent as part of the new evangelization movement to appreciate African values and to preserve them for the future generations. We should not lose the patrimony of our diverse cultures that define the African identity. The retired Pope acknowledges the fact that Catholic Universities in Africa play a vital role “to shape the minds and hearts of the young people in light of the gospel”(no. 135). He sees A Catholic University as a “cultural centre” offering the Church the possibility of “cultural exchange” and enabling the culture of “listening, respect and tolerance” (no. 137).
I am happy to note that UMU is already experiencing cultural diversity and having the opportunity to learn that we are different but one nation, one continent, one world. This is part of the peace education which was adopted by the ACUHIAM (Association of Catholic Universities and Higher Institutes of Africa and Madagascar) – July 2009.
Relevance of the system of education
In general terms, ACUHIAM, moving in the direction of peace education, is a response to the problematic of Catholic Universities in Africa which are faced with concrete issues to deliver an
education that will liberate the people from prejudices (of the “we” and the “others”) creating unhealthy relationships often exploited by politicians to divide the masses on ethnic grounds,
sometimes leading to conflicts and civil wars, and compounding the conditions of poverty and disease. We are looking at an education for life which leads to wisdom to face all situations of life, thus empowering the individual to think properly and have sound judgment. More than fifty years after inheriting a purely Western system of education in Africa, it is time to think about the African reality and question the relevance of the present systems in addressing the African reality.
The idea of a Catholic University already embraces the objective of holistic education, but our challenge is to appreciate the African Philosophy which creates the environment for a holistic
education rather than a specialist education. This is best expressed by Julius Nyerere thus, “Unless education helps us participate actively in the rebellion against those social structures and conditions which condemn people to poverty, humiliation and degradation, then that education will become irrelevant” (Julius Nyerere, 1966).
Specific to the UMU Community
I have dwelt almost entirely on a perspective of UMU as a Catholic University which may not be familiar discourse to majority of our students and perhaps staff, just for the sole reason that that is what makes us different. (The greatest sin of Israel was when they went to the Prophet Samuel and demanded to be given a king to rule over them like the other nations. This displeased God who up to then was the sole King of Israel – 1 Samuel 8, 5-7)! We must do things not because everybody else does them, but because they are right and they advance the cause of our mission.
It is therefore my desire to see more of this conversation continued in the months and years to come. In this context UMU should not be seen as discriminating but inclusive of other faith traditions and cultures to favor dialogue and appreciation of unity in diversity. We should realize that the acclaimed New Evangelization movement is more about impacting the values of the Gospel on individuals and society as a whole, rather than making conversions or converting people to Christianity. That is why, non-Catholic students and staff will testify that at UMU there has never been a deliberate plan to convert them, although, the Chaplain will happily welcome anyone, who will freely choose to become a Catholic.
In conclusion, I would like to assure the University community (students and staff) that, the golden rule of academic freedom is guaranteed within the all-embracing philosophy of the joy of searching for the whole truth (about nature, man and God), finding it and communicating it through publications, teaching and community engagement. All this should be done in the interest of authentic human development, thus making our Uganda and the rest of the world a better place to live in.
By Rev. Prof. John C. Maviiri (24 March 2015)