Why Prof. William Ochieng’ is wrong on ‘Brown Notes’ at Universities

Why Prof. William Ochieng’ is wrong on ‘Brown Notes’ at Universities


By Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi


I was surprised by the response from Prof. William Ochieng’ in Daily Nation of February 14, 2012 to my article which appeared in the Daily Nation on 26th Jan 2012, condemning the use of tattered notes by dons at universities in Kenya. I was astonished that there would be anyone defending university lectures who read old, yellow and brown notes to students instead of lecturing. In a piece mischievously entitled, “Amutabi talks tough, but show us his books,” Prof. Ochieng’ seems to suggest that he has published more books than me, which is inaccurate. He comes out as unapologetic defender of bad lecturers who shamelessly embarrass those of us who prepare adequately before going to lecture.


Many scholars know that Prof. Ochieng’ loves fights, especially in public. Like the vintage Ochieng’, he skips the important topic of bad teaching, the subject of my article, and moves to a different subject on books, where he mistakenly thinks he might have an advantage over me. For his information, I have more and better books than his. If he wants to contest this fact, our academic peers can be asked to compare our books. I wonder if he considers his little pamphlets titled First Word, Second World and Third Word which were churned out of his polemical and unsubstantiated articles in the press as books! Throughout his reaction to my article, Prof. Ochieng does not come out clean on whether he is a user of yellow notes (brown notes) or not.


Prof. Ochieng’s wants to be shown my books, and says that he will come to Nairobi to see them. Well, Prof. Ochieng’ should be advised that in this day and age, my books are just a mouse click away. He only needs to search for ‘Maurice Amutabi’ under any academic search engine and the books will all appear, ready for him to order. Travelling all the way from Maseno to Nairobi to be shown my books is really old school when they are all available on Aamzon.com. Some of my books are published abroad, unlike his which are mainly published at Kisumu and Nairobi. For his information, I have published more books in my university teaching career of less than 25 years compared to his stretching out for over four decades.


The Socratic style of lecturing is praised all over the world as the best, and I am therefore surprised that Prof. Ochieng is resisting it. While studying at the University of Nairobi, I admired my teachers such as Profs. Mwangi wa Gihumo, Korwa Adar, Njuguna Ng’ethe and Katete Orwa, who came to class only with chalk. They had confidence in what they taught and we really admired and applauded them. They remain my models of ideal intellectuals up to this day. Unlike those who taught Prof. Ochieng and who read from their old notes, my best lecturers did not read notes in class. They encouraged critical thinking because they did not pretend to know everything.


Prof. Ochieng may want to know that I received overwhelming response from hundreds of readers; mainly university students and professors who agreed with the views expressed in the article. If he had an e-mail account, I would have forwarded them to him. One university professor said that the notes are nowadays ‘brown’ and no longer yellow due to age, oxidation, and exposure to dust due to campus shuttling. My mailbox was flooded with messages of support and solidarity, where many students gave macabre details on how some lecturers even carry textbooks to class to read to them. Some recounted cases where PowerPoint slides did not help much as lecturers simply read them loud, word for word.


Ochieng mentions Prof. B.A Ogot as an example of a renowned professor who reads notes to his students. I happen to have listened to Prof. Ogot many times and he does not read his. I have met many of Ochieng’s students and many have told me that he has major challenges in embracing the Socratic Method because he loves to read his notes in class. I challenge him to contact any of my former students on the same, and he will be pleased to know that I preach water and drink water, not wine.


Prof. Amutabi teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi. Amutabi@yahoo.com


About African Interdisciplinary Studies Association Website

Prof. Maurice Nyamanga Amutabi is President of African Interdisciplinary Studies Association (AISA), a pioneer professional associaiton bringing together members from all disciplines in Africa and abroad. He is a former Fulbright Scholar who previously worked as Deputy Vice Chancellor at Kisii University and also Director of Research and Professor in Peace and Strategic Studies at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), 2010-2013. He has previously taught at Central Washington University, USA (2005-2010) in African Studies Programme and Moi University (1992-2000) in the Department of Development Studies and other public universities in Kenya. Prof. Amutabi holds a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA in History and African Studies. He received his B.A (Hons) in 1989 in Political Science and History and M.A in 1991 from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Maurice Amutabi is co-editor of Regime Change and Succession Politics in Africa: Five Decades of Misrule (with Shadrack Wanjala Nasong’o) – in 2013. Amutabi also co-edited Africa after Fifty Years: Retrospections and Reflections (with Toyin Falola and Sylvester Gundona) in 2012. Amutabi is the author of The NGO Factor in Africa: The Case of Arrested Development in Kenya (New York: Routledge, 2006). Amutabi is co-author of Nationalism and Democracy for People-Centered Development in Africa (Moi University Press, 2000). He has also co-authored Foundations of Adult Education in Africa (Cape Town/Hamburg: Pearson/UNESCO, 2005). He has written two novels, Because of Honor (a novel on Islam in Africa) and These Good People (a novel on corruption in Africa). Amutabi is also the author of Nakhamuma Stories (a collection of short stories from the Abaluyia community of western Kenya). His chapters have appeared in over thirty books. His articles have appeared in several refereed and reputable journals such as African Studies Review, African Contemporary Cultural Studies, Canadian Journal of African Studies, International Journal of Educational Development; and Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. Amutabi has made presentations at over one hundred national and international conferences. Amutabi is the Vice-President of the Kenya Studies and Scholars’ Association (KESSA), Kenya’s premier research and academic organization. He is the editor-in-chief of Kenya Studies Review and Eastern Africa Journal of Humanities and Sciences. Prof. Amutabi has conducted extensive research on many issues of development. He has taught courses on peace and conflict and gender and development. He teaches in the PhD and Masters Programme in the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at Kisii University. He enjoys blogging and writing and is an avid sports fan, but does not support any of team, preferring to support the team that plays well.
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