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Embarrassment for Prof Mamdani as Makerere PhD student beats University in court

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The High Court in Kampala has ordered Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Makerere Institute of Social Research-MISR to refrain from the administration, supervision, and examination of Yusuf Sserunkuma’s doctoral thesis.

Sserunkuma who was in his final stages of completing his PhD dissertation fell out with professor Mamdani, the institute director, over the administration and supervision of his PhD work in 2016.

Sserunkuma accused professor Mamdani of, among other things, abuse of office and illogical alteration of his PhD supervisory committee with some major changes coming in after the second draft of his dissertation. However, Mamdani insisted that the student was running from his weaknesses and finding excuses. This resulted in protracted battles between the student and his supervisor.

After subjecting his aggrieves to the university in vain, the frustrated student filed for a judicial review asking the court to quash the decisions of the Examinations, irregularities, and Appeals Committee of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Sserukuma also wanted the court to reverse the proceedings of the Makerere Institute of Social Research academic board which appointed for him ‘biased supervisors’ which, according to him, had breached principles of natural justice.

But Makerere University and Prof Mamdani called for the dismissal of the matter arguing that it had been filed with ill intentions. They told the court that instead of appreciating the several best-intended actions of his supervisor, the applicant resorted to appealing to several committees which as well accorded him a right to be heard.

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However, Lady Justice Lydia Mugambe notes that although it is not normal for a student to choose their PhD supervisors, it is also abnormal for the Makerere Institute of Social Research to insist on persons being supervisors of a PhD student when communication has irretrievably broken down between the two.

“This abnormality and suspicion extend to any other person the student perceives to be in the camp of the supervisor he falls out with… Put simply, it is irrational, irregular and unreasonable to force supervision of a PhD student by someone he has fallen out with, or any considered proteges of such person further asserting Supervision for PhD should be by someone he has trust and confidence in,” her seven paged ruling reads in part.

As a way forward, Justice Mugambe directed that the College of humanities and social sciences and the Directorate of Research and Graduate Training take over the administration, supervision, and examination of Sserunkuma’s PhD thesis including nomination and appointment of the Applicant’s Doctoral Committee.

Mugambe awarded Sserunkuma general damages of 25 million Shillings and costs of the application. She also directed that he should be exempted from paying fees and other related costs for the years almost that he was not formally working on his PhD.

“So in the interest of justice I hereby direct waiver of any requirement of fees from the Applicant for the years he has been on the fall out with his supervisors. Instead, the Applicant shall pay fees for only one academic year within which his supervision should be completed and if he passes, allowed to graduate.” she ruled.

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