Who really owns the United States International University – Africa (USIU)?
This question has been lingering in the minds of many leading Parliament to open an inquiry into the institution of higher learning operations.
The varsity was founded by William C. Rust, an ambitious educationist and visionary who oversaw the growth of the institution from London to Mexico City to Maui and to Nairobi.
But in 1991, internal wrangles and financial setbacks would see Rust removed from the helm and his place taken by Freida Brown.
By the time Ms Brown took over, the sale of the Nairobi campus had hit a snag after it was established that the campus had no links with the other campuses.
It was then that Ms Brown assumed the vital roles including the Chancellor, vice chancellor and sole owner of the varsity.
So deep rooted was the ownership row that the Kenyan parliament sought to probe the matter.
In 2015, the family of the late politician Jeremiah Nyagah claimed a stake in the ownership of USIU.
Appearing before the Education committee, the Jeremiah Nyagah Trust said that their father sold the land to USIU-San Diego on grounds that their family interests would be catered to.
“Our late father used to remind us that we have a stake in the institution. Even the mode of payment was fair to the university and whenever they had a challenge our parents gave them good credit terms,” the late Joe Nyagah told the committee.
The late ex-minister told the Julius Melly-led committee that the agreement was reached following an “understanding” with then USIU president Rust.
Shortly after Ms Brown would offer to step down. She handpicked her successor, a Malawian lecturer Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza.
He took office in January 2016. His six year reign was marred with court cases including one filed in 2020 after he tried to cut lecturers’ pay and dismiss others.
Some 54 lecturers led by Prof Maina Muchara who is the Faculty Council chair, moved to court seeking to suspend the move and bar the institution from terminating their services or interfering with their terms of employment, pending the determination of the case.
In spite of the court order, the institution of higher learning in January this year fired 59 members.
It is also said that 40 others were sent packing in 2020.
In an internal statement sent to staff, USIU cited the continued decline in enrolment of students as reason for the mass layoffs.
But according to those privy to the details, the VC who was set to leave the private institution in November for “greener pastures” was retrenching staff for selfish reasons.
VC Zeleza was allegedly seeking to leave with a hefty bonus even as the institution goes through financial challenges exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the 2018/19 Academic year, the FC stated, the university’s expenditure exceeded revenue by 10 percent. This, they attributed to the phenomenal growth of expansive bureaucracy witnessed since 2016.
The university apparently moved from making Sh250 million per year to the negative.
As it stands, Ms Brown will be making a return to the institution which those privy to the details say, she runs like a private enterprise.
Earlier this week, the varsity announced her return for a period of nine months as it recruits Zeleza’s replacement.
Her return does not, however, sit well with those who want the ownership of the institution made public.
“It’s imperative that Parliament urgently makes public the outcome of the probe into USIU now that Freida is back. Also, the University trustees need to address Governance issues, especially on who really owns USIU, before thinking of recruiting a new Vice Chancellor. Alot is in the dark and the world needs the mysteries to be unravelled. They also need to urgently amend the charter to remove the executive power of the Chancellor in compliance with the University’s Act 2012 where Chancellor’s of all private and public universities are titular heads with no executive powers,” a source told Opera News.
The university has been experiencing a decline in enrolment for three years now hence an estimated annual deficit of Sh313 million.