Discussion of the BBC exposé has been dominated by whether the academics revealed on tape rewarded their victims with grades. While some involved have claimed entrapment, others have threatened fire and brimstone as others have obviously realised the effect of the telecast video not just on themselves but also on their academic institutions, families, friends and loved ones.
I join in the chorus of those who believe that those who claim innocence should resort to the appropriate quarters for remedial action. After all, they have their dignity, careers and names to protect. Who won’t defend themselves in such circumstances? I sure will.
But elsewhere, by now many careers in academia in both Ghana and Nigeria would be in limbo following the broadcast of the ‘Sex for Grades’ documentary by the BBC this week. Not only will some of those captured in the episode have had to bow out, but pressure would have also mounted on others to either resign or be kicked out altogether. But in the case of Legon, management so far only seems to ‘express concern’, a very common consequence in our part of the world for disturbing phenomena.
When my friend shared excerpts of the video with me, my response was “this is long overdue”. Like the proverbial ostriches that many of us have become, even though we know of its existence, we ignore it, partake in it or look on unconcerned. But this time one hopes the institutions involved will investigate the allegations and where culpability is established, take appropriate remedial action.
I speak as a former student of the University of Ghana, who spent a total of seven years on the Legon Campus and due to student journalism and partly students’ leadership, was privy to some of the stories. In fact, I knew a case in the Agric Engineering Department where a young lady was failed after she refused the sexual advances of an academic. I’m not sure how she managed to make it out of there.
Many similar stories were told over the period. Sometimes, you could hear academics making suggestive comments to female students even in the presence of others. The practice is not limited to academics but also administrators, fellow students, cleaners and even any work boys. However, in the case of academics, their ability to use their influence to coerce female students and proceed to deny them grades when they resist is purely malicious. Who will bell the cat? Maybe the BBC has.
In what seemed to be a meltdown by one of the academics involved, he put out a female student’s name and attempted to blackmail her, even at this point. He mentioned favours the student received, demanded academic materials with her and threatened to kill her, touting his executioner status. That sent shivers down my spine.
The excerpts of the documentary I have seen all point to the academics captured in their lowest moments. The local pastor in Nigeria who wanted the female student to have the ‘cold room experience’ must have his career ended and it is a good sign that the University of Lagos (Unilag) had closed down the so-called cold room in a public exercise to assure parents that their female wards in the university do not become carcasses to be preserved in any cold room. His attempt to initiate physical contact with the undercover journalist, going to the extent of turning off the lights in his office, clearly indicates the very conduct that is the point of the investigative exercise.
Of course, in all these cases, there will be contentions because the academics have their power, their influence and their years of training and teaching on the line. But the greater good will not be served if the axe does not fall. As earlier intimated, many female students suffer this sort of harassment in silence. As I mentioned earlier, I have heard far too many of these stories and what was sometimes shocking was the academics involved.
Some of them came across as too principled to be caught in such acts while others had such in academic institutions of whom are wives and mothers today had to endure this canker in silence. But others also enjoyed the leeway they had with these academic and administrative staff. I recall how a female journalist in one of the English radio stations in Accra today called a very powerful media personality on campus in my presence to demonstrate her power over him. Hers may not be seen as one for grades but for benefits and influence.
Such female students threw themselves at anything just to see where they will stick, some for monetary favours and other forms of support simply because times were hard for them and they could not make it on their own steam. If a lecturer fell victim, he will eventually have to sacrifice academic honesty by gifting such students grades, even where others who burn the midnight candle struggle through the very same course.
The fact that these stories did not hit the headlines cannot in any way suggest that the BBC’s documentary was fictitious. What the BBC achieved, in my view, was to tell the stories of the many who suffered this misdeed in silence and exposed the extent these academics could go with their victims. Was it possible to use current students? How would the BBC establish the change in grades? Because the lecturers obviously will not bring their assessment to the students but gift them grades, that aspect would have been difficult to prove. Just as they failed those who defied their advances, it goes without saying that those who succumbed were graciously rewarded and if not with grades, what would be the lure?
In fact, we must congratulate those behind the BBC initiative. We all know the complications that ensue when the “little man” is at play – the big man loses his mind and the ramifications are numerous and varied. Families have suffered as a result of the complex exploits of the “little man”. Marriages have ended and lives have been lost. In the reported cases, it is worrying that the academics were engaged in the recorded conversations with both current and prospective students. Imagine a situation where your relative with the required grades would be denied admission because someone slept their way to same.
The BBC crew was able to unearth a situation that must trigger Ghana’s “MeToo Movement” among female students – past and present – who suffered similar ordeals. The fact that some previous victims are speaking out through themselves and assign is a great start. It is the only way to root out this age-old practice that seems intractable and has the potential to destroy many young women. The young women suffer at the hands of those sworn to develop them into worthy members of our society. Some of those whose job it is to train their minds to think critically rather spend the time-twisting their minds to accept favours including grades only by showing up in their offices or cold rooms and subjecting themselves to orgies.
The gender activists in both universities must be seen to be demanding a lot more from the institutions to ensure that female students are protected. It must be possible for universities to create apps and portals for anonymous reporting of such advances. The institutions can warn academics of reports of that nature and where students feel ‘mafiaed’, it must be possible to come forward and have their cases fully investigated.
The Harvey Weinstein case and the subsequent reports of females who felt others took advantage of their vulnerabilities must serve as a cautionary tale for all men in positions of power. What the BBC uncovered cannot be said to be novel. However, they caught the academics pants down. They got the academics making propositions to prospective and existing members of the academic community either to kiss them, to hold them or to promise to marry them. All of which flout the expected relationship between academics and students.
Anyone who understands what goes into such productions will know that the BBC crew did not go on a blind date. It chose academics suspected to engage in the practice based on what it called a “painstaking interviewing process”. The outcome has shocked many, but it’s a reflection of our society today and we either address it or wait for it to consume us all.
Yes, it is fair to criticise the BBC for tagging the documentary ‘Sex for Grades’ as that was not explicitly established. But the evidence from what was seen is that though there were power relations involved, the academics did not hold back their desire to take advantage of the students. And in the case of the Unilag lecturer, we can clearly see him referring to the existence of this quid pro quo where female students procure grades “with their bodies”.That is what must engage all of our attention.
Both Legon and Unilag have a responsibility to prove to all and sundry that they will not condone such behaviour by carrying outs their investigations, instituting remedial measures and putting in place mechanisms for reporting that will not endanger female students due to the nature of the lopsided power relations that allows this practice to fester.
Finally, female students who make it their life’s duty to throw themselves at academics in particular and superiors, in general, cannot be ignored in any such conversation. They could push unsuspecting academics to fall in order to take the glory or use them on their way up the ladder. The reality is that such rise leads to exposure when they are at the very top. At that point, there will be no one to save you.
A word to the wise…
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