I thought it was just a joke when I first heard it.
Unity Hall, the all-male residential institution popularly called Conti, was on the verge of being converted to a unisex hall to help increase female accommodation on the Kwame University of Science and Technology (KNUST) campus.
For me, it was ridiculous. I felt the leadership of the university was making an audacious attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible.
Well now, things seem to have gotten into gear: news making rounds is that both female continuing students and freshmen have been allocated accommodation at Unity Hall (Conti) as well as its rival all-male Hall of Residence, the University Hall (Katanga), with effect from the 2018-19 academic year.
I have to shoot straight: I feel the university authorities are being frivolous. This decision is unwarranted.
Our professors always teach us to think outside the box to help solve societal problems as intellectuals, so I get surprised when they fail to do what they preach by towing the line of people without vision.
The last traditional hall in KNUST was established in 1968 and subsequent governments and university authorities have failed to put up new halls of residence.
The problem of accommodation on the KNUST campus has been with us for several decades, but there has been no attempt to find a lasting solution to this predicament.
Instead of churning out policies to put to sleep the accommodation problem that has been a major worry to the university, we are waking up to hear that the university plans on boosting female accommodation on campus by displacing their male counterparts.
The university authorities argue that they are doing so to protect females, who they think are prone to robberies and attacks when they stay in hostels off campus.
This is baffling to say the least. So they mean the males are being sent off campus because they can fend off these attacks?
KNUST administrators seem to be overrating masculinity: they seem to be insinuating that male students have otherworldly courage and bullet proof vests to survive in the ‘wild’ that is off campus.
The reasons given by the University for its decision to convert the two traditional male halls into unisex halls just don't add up.
I expect KNUST authorities to start thinking outside the box by entering into agreements with individuals and corporate organizations to set up accommodation facilities on campus.
The university has vast virgin and semi virgin lands to harness. They have to make hey while the sun shines by putting these lands into good use. Look, the truth is bitter, but it must be said.
During my days on campus, I remember the pride with which we boasted of our school, because KNUST was the best university in Ghana according to the world ranking of universities. But, a few years after I graduated, I realised the University of Ghana (Legon) had long usurped my beloved school.
What did the trick for Legon was that the authorities started to think of solving the issue of accommodation. Legon, like KNUST, used to accommodate four students in a room, but it reduced to three in a room. This didn’t happen by magic.
The authorities on the Legon Hills were proactive enough to partner institutions to establish halls on campus for students.
Legon acted smartly in its quest to provide decent accommodation for its students. The University of Ghana realized that funds were difficult to come by, so it needed to lobby private bodies to come to its rescue.
Now the thing is: why can’t KNUST do same?
Universities with good accommodation facilities are ranked higher by Google and order ranking bodies, and if KNUST wants to play at the echelons of prominence, it needs to sit up and solve this accommodation conundrum.
KNUST, like many other academic institutions, has a Quality Assurance office. And so I weep for the University, because the quality this office seems to be offering is supervising the conversion of the two traditional male halls to mixed halls, instead of tackling the substantive issues of campus accommodation.
KNUST, which is supposed to be the leader in science and technology in the country, should apply the same scientific and technological attitudes of innovation and practicality, in order to create lasting solutions to its problems.
The solution the authorities are offering seems to me as only attempts to paper cracks, a postponement of potential problems. There is a funny adage that says that when you crown an elderly person as a king, following the death of an old king, it is merely the funeral that has been postponed.
What the authorities of KNUST are doing - making this a female against male situation when indeed accommodation is a general student problem - will not solve the real issues.
On the flip side, it is believed by many that through these controversial attempts to convert the male halls, the university has used the “male vs female” arguments as a smokescreen to hide its fear of the unhealthy rivalry between Conti (Unity Hall) and Katanga (University Hall).
It is an open secret that the university feels that converting these two halls - known for their notoriety and abrasiveness - to unisex halls will help tame them and create a peaceful atmosphere on campus.
This belief is flawed. Case in point?
Have a look at Mensah Sabah on Legon campus and Atlantic Hall at the University of Cape Coast (UCC). These two halls were converted to unisex halls, yet they have been in several clashes with Commonwealth Hall and Casely Hayford Hall - both all-male halls - respectively over the last few years. It is quite clear that conversion is never the way out.
I believe both Conti and Katanga have come to the realisation that violence is not the only way to display their supremacy. There are moves to end the fierce rivalry. For instance, just last week, all the four male university halls in Ghana held a summit to discuss ways to promote healthy rivalry amongst them, without resorting to violence.
I think it is a step forward and the University should take it up from there by engaging the halls in future deliberations of that nature.
The alumni and JCR executives of Conti and Katanga have filed a writ against the authorities of KNUST to restrain them carrying out the conversion. I think the university can save themselves the needless legal tussle by rescinding their decision to go on with the conversion.
Sincerely, throwing male students out of campus to accommodate more female students is not solid justification to throw out a tradition that has existed for well over 50 years.
Students and alumni of these two halls pride themselves with the fact that they are all-male halls and it is a special identity that they will do everything to maintain. The status quo is sensitive and will be defensively guarded.
KNUST still has several great architects, planners, developers, engineers and so on to produce. And so the university should put its act together and eschew this needless conversion debate in order to tackle the main issues.
The University needs to pick up the pieces from where it lost track and start building to make its stakeholders proud again.
Long live Conti.
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