Rotimi Olatunji, an Associate Professor of Mass Communication, is the Acting Dean of the Lagos State University’s School of Communication. In an exclusive interview with The Intellectual, he spoke extensively on the quality of training at his faculty and several other issues.
Has the Lagos State University been able to justify the purpose of its establishment as an ivory tower?
I happen to be a pioneering staff of the School of Communication when it began in the year 2000. At that time, we had a bunch of committed and dedicated lecturers. We started out at Surulere campus and half of the student population is still there.
When we started the concept of the School of Communication, it was the first in the country and possibly also in West Africa, where a university had a full-fledged faculty, devoted to teaching all aspects of communication. Institutions like the University of Lagos just had and still has a Department of Mass Communication, so we pioneered that effort. And the story has been very sweet since the beginning until now.
The faculty is made up of quality manpower resources. We are privileged to have Prof Idowu Sobowale, an eminent scholar in the field of Communication, who was also a former Commissioner for Education and a former Dean of the School of Communication. We also had, recently, Prof Lai Osho, who has spent many years in the industry as a scholar. We have had Fulbright scholars within our faculty, such as Prof Anthony Olorunnisola. We have attracted Prof Moemeka and Prof Sonaike of blessed memory.
Our faculty has produced the first best graduating student with a First Class, who now works in an Advertising Agency. Apart from that, some of our products have obtained their PhDs while others are about completing theirs, and they are in different areas of the communication industry.
We have our products in different aspects of communication: print, advertising, entertainment and the rest. That was part of the noble goals for the establishment of the School of Communication, which is to produce industry ready graduates and scholars, who are able to hold their own in the comity of nations. So, from what I see, especially in my faculty, LASU has been a success story.
So, in terms of what I see, with the School of Communication being an integral part of LASU, the University has been a success story as far as communication scholarship in Nigeria is concerned.
What’s the experience been like since your appointment as Acting Dean? What do you want to achieve?
We commenced academic learning in the 2000/2001 academic session when I was recruited then as an assistant lecturer. I was about to round up my PhD at the University of Ibadan at the time.
I saw prospects in the system. I saw a system that catered for the needs of the workers; I saw an environment that stimulated growth in terms of manpower development. My relationship with colleagues was very friendly and so that encourage me to stay.
Actually at a time, when new universities were evolving, there were several attempts to poach staff and I could have been poached. But I said to myself that I hold a responsibility to students in public institutions as well and it is my mission to be a part of the success story of this institution.
Although we started small in the School of Communication, but we have been increasing with intensity and impact. Just like I said earlier about the quality of manpower that we have had, there is also the quality of manpower that we have produced and are still producing. Now, we have gone to the level of teaching those who are bagging their PhD. We started with first degree, then we went to Master’s and now, we have two Master’s degrees: Academic and Professional. We have just commenced PhD programmes in Communication Studies. We have up to seven students who are on our PhD programme –three from our faculty and four from other institutions.
Part of the attraction for students who apply to the School of Communication is the centrality of its location. Why is the school now being moved to the Ojo campus and what benefit does this action hold for the students?
Part of the dream of establishing the School of Communication is to immerse it in the middle of the town, because news, events and activities happen in the heart of the town. We wanted our students to be part of the society, so that they could learn practically and be able to study and report the society effectively. That was one key consideration in starting off at the Surulere Campus and fortunately, we had a donor in the person of Adebola Adegunwa, who did us well by volunteering his property for the use by the university.
Firstly, along the way, as the school grew in size, it dawned on us that the place was becoming choky, such that all the structures that should be on ground, place could no longer accommodate them.
Secondly, the university looked for properties around to buy, but that proved difficult because the area is residential and people were not willing to let off their properties. Besides, the money they (property owners) were asking for was too high. For example , we wanted to buy a building opposite the school, but the owner of the building was asking for so much that the money (he was asking for) would have been more than enough for us to build a new structure that would have more space to ourselves and so on.
Thirdly, we discovered that the environment (Ojuelegba) is not totally conducive for learning because we compete with artisans, residents, noise and so on. We also noticed, at a time, that there was a need for a legal issue to be resolved with regard to that property.
But most importantly, we needed to expand as that place became too limiting for us. Our studio was very small and we needed so many other structures, such as printing press and others. We just got a donor, Kessington Adebutu, who built LASU radio for us, which is part of our training arm. We need to have all of these structures in a unified place and then also, very important, is the fact that the concept of “ place” is already demystified in terms of news gathering. You are here and you can move anywhere to gather news. Things have gone virtual. Our students are mobile and we can send then to any part of Lagos to gather news.
And as the University has now taken a decision to actually relocate the faculty to the main campus, we will be able to enjoy the synergy of harnessing all the resources of other faculties. For example, the LASU radio is not just going to be for us alone, but also those in Theatre Art, educational broadcasting.
Also, the faculty will be able to interact with other departments across the different faculties in the institution. Happily, the university has already commissioned the project, the drawings are complete, the engineers are looking at our electrical needs in terms of voltage and so on. I have seen the drawing; it’s a perfect one, we are going to have, apart from the lecture rooms, an amphi-theatre which we don’t have at Surulere. Here (main campus), we are going to have a large auditorium and our population is growing by the day. With the commencement of our PhD programmes, we need PhD lecture rooms which we don’t have over there. We also don’t have special lecture rooms for Master’s and PGD (Post Graduate Diploma) students.
In terms of the students, they would be the better off . They can interact with their colleagues, they can move anywhere to gather news and then Ojo is still in the larger society. We have communities surrounding us, for example, those who are in radio can go to various companies and Alaba market to seek for advertisement of products and there are other markets around.
Presently now, for undergraduates, I may not be precise, but as at the last matriculation we had the data of about 110 (students) for 100 level, less than 60 for 200 level, close to 150 for 300 level; so give or take, we should be having a population of up to 600 students at the undergraduate level. For Master’s, we have around 15 for academic and about 30 professional programmes. For PhD, we have seven students.
Are all your programmes fully accredited?
We are fully accredited and that was last year. Our current accreditation would last us for up to five years. Then, we already have the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) accreditation. I made an arrangement: If our students, after graduation, want to practice , they just need to register with APCON and they are certified to practice..
There have been complaints about the difficulty in getting certificates after graduation. There is also an allegation that there is a backlog of graduates who are yet to get their certificates.What are you doing to rectify the situation?
Let me start by debunking the view that students’ results are outstanding. To the best of my knowledge, and this is the truth, for the past six years, students’ results are released as at when due. In my faculty, there are no outstanding results. I always tell people; two weeks after the examination, results are ready.
However, there are some students who, due to their carelessness, maybe they failed a course or two, and they failed to re-register for such courses or they failed to attempt them again, or they just run away, such students are the ones who will then go out and claim that their results are outstanding.
There were just few cases that I inherited, I think, about seven or so of them. And these cases were due to the transition from the old Excel template of processing the result, to the new template that we currently use. When their results were copied from Excel to the new template, the new template didn’t pick everything. But I have resolved those few cases.
For the past four to five years now, students have been graduating as at when due. There are a few cases that I hear of outside, and these have to do with the External System, which are some campuses outside that are not full-fledged faculties. But as far as the internal system is concerned, there are no outstanding results.
There was a case in my faculty where a student told his parents that he had already been mobilized.But when the parents came and we checked, we found out that the student stopped registering from 200 level. Such students would be going round to say he has a backlog of results, meanwhile he wasn’t registering for his courses.
For this convocation that will soon hold, I am presenting more than 200 graduands from the School of Communication, those who are graduating as at when due. There are only a few cases of those who entered in 2009 but are going to graduate with those who entered 2010, which is allowable. The issue of backlog may have happened in the past, but not anymore. And I want to attribute this feat to the zeal and commitment of our Vice Chancellor, whose dedication and purpose openly and privately, shows that under no situation should students stay longer than necessary, except those who want to stay for the maximum six years. The Vice Chancellor has been committed to that and for the past three academic sessions now, our graduation ceremonies are held back to back, including matriculation, despite the national (Academic Staff Union of Universities) strike.
But what about transcripts? How easy is it for your graduates to get their transcripts processed when they need them?
I have had my own son graduating from LASU and he wanted to apply to a university abroad. He was very surprised about how fast the transcript processed.
In the past, when everything was done manually, it could take time. But now, at the press of a button, transcripts are out. Although, I am not speaking for the Exams and Records Department, but I can testify that all those that have applied through me have gotten it (transcript). It should also be noted that for those who might have graduated in the past, whose records are not in soft copies, then it could be quite laborious to get their transcripts out on time. But for now, we are IT complaint and it is easier for our students to get their transcripts.
What assurances can you give the corporate world on the quality of LASU products?
The goal and philosophy of the School of Communication is to create industry ready graduates. Over the years, we have lived up to that expectation. There is none of my products that can be jobless. I will give you an example of my son, who graduated in Public Relations and Advertising and he now does movies. He has not sought any employment. I have testimonies of many of my students in the industry. Even when there is unemployment, they can create jobs for themselves.
I have a student who trained herself in Photography. She goes around to take photos of society ladies and through that, she was making money to train herself.
There is another student who is into photojournalism. He does freelance and he is making money. Those in book publishing can make money by printing posters, especially in this era of politics. We teach all of those skills, including those who are interested in the entertainment industry and so on. As far as I am concerned, those who have been working in the industry are the best products. The feedback we receive from employers says that our products rank part of the best in the country.
Even when they go for media attachment, the reports we get about our students are outstanding. We are on top of the situation. Our products fit into the market. They can create jobs for themselves and they have been doing so. We have no problem as far as the quality of training we offer our students is concerned.