Have we started to drop the big balls?

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While in Mbarara over the weekend, I met up with my former boss at Daily Monitor, Alfred Tumushabe, for coffee at Cafe Ark on Booma Hill.

The intention was to talk about the dynamics in the media industry but we discussed Uganda Christian University (UCU) mostly.

At the Daily Monitor, Tumushabe looked at me as UCU’s mouthpiece. Whenever the university featured in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons, he would welcome me into office with questions and demand answers.

One morning I recall walking into his office before browsing my newsfeed. Before he said good morning, Tumushabe shot at me the question: “What is wrong with your university? Now you are making sex tapes?”

I did not have an answer to that but it is among the many questions that featured from listeners whenever we held radio talk shows during career outreach sessions across the country.

On my way back from Mbarara, I read a story in The Observer that named UCU among the four universities that were producing “fake” nurses.

It said that the university admitted students to the course, without the prerequisite subjects of Biology and Chemistry and that the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC) had refused to certify our graduates saying that “they did not meet the minimum qualifications”.

So our coffee session discussed tuition increments, law suits, foiled demonstrations, and embargos of religion, among other. I struggled to explain the little I knew and although Alfredo, we call him, seemed impressed, his observations left me with a bigger question to answer: What is wrong with the UCU court? As Charles Onyango Obbo would say, it is dropping the big balls.

Since 1997, UCU has garnered tremendous accomplishments. It runs the best newspaper of any university in Africa, The Standard. The best law and journalism schools in the country are also based here. 

My source at the Law Development Council (LDC) tells me that 70 per cent of those who passed the entry exams this year are UCU LLB graduates.

Why then does the bad news always supersede the good? The answer is in the timing and mode of communication. The university markets and de-markets itself simultaneously.

Here’s an example:

In May, while on the career outreach trail, we had a very successful talk show on Vision Radio 89.1 FM, in Mbarara town. The Vice Chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, had just announced that the university had waived the annual tuition increment beginning with the new students in the Advent (September) semester.

Parents, students, alumni and potential clients called into the show to express their gratitude.

I also understand that the university PRO, Prim Kesande, did not sleep that night as she was besieged with endless calls from clients seeking to pick application letters and by the time we were through with Kisoro, we were out of stock on the letters.

As we were still basking in the limelight of accomplishment, word began to circulate that the university had announced yet another tuition increment and that an imminent strike/demonstration was underway at the Mukono campus.

The successes of the outreach missions were washed away by a poorly timed and communicated policy.

Moral of the story. Timing and effective communication are crucial if the good is to outshine the bad.

Alex Taremwa is The Standard’s Ex-Officio and Managing Editor at The Transparent Magazine