Town and Gown Relationship

POLYTECHNIC COMMUNITY/HOST COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIP BEING A PAPER DELIVER TO NEWLY EMPLOYED STAFF OF AKANU IBIAM FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC ON THE OCASSION OF THEIR INDUCTION ON MARCH 25, 2014 IN THE POLYTECHNIC LECTURE THEATRE  BY ELDER A. INYA IBIAM FCAI, MNIM, JP, CHIEF LECTURER

The Rector
Deputy Rectors
Principal Officers
Deans and Directors
Heads of Departments and Units
Inductees
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be selected by the Induction Committee to deliver this all important topic. I also want to contragulate the Committee on the choice of this topic. The topic is apt because the health of the relationship between any   Institution, be it profit oriented, social oriented, political oriented or education oriented will determine, to a large extend, its success or failure. With the number of people that have been employed it becomes very necessary that they should start on a right pesestral in terms of their relationship-expectation with their host community.

What the organizers of this induction have narrowly called Polytechnic Community/Host Community Relationship  (PCHCR) is what is globally referred to as TOWN AND GOWN RELATIONSHIP.

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

The  questions one may ask are what is Town/Gown relation,  how did it start and why is it so called?

Town and gown are two distinct communities of a university town; “town” referring to the non-academic population and “gown” metonymically referring to the university community, especially in ancient seats of learning such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Andrews, although the term is also used to describe modern university towns as well as towns with a significant public school(s). The metaphor is historical in its connotation but continues to be used in the literature on urban higher education and in common parlance.

Origin of the term

During the Middle Ages, students admitted to European universities often held minor clerical status in the Church and donned garb similar to that worn by the clergy. With time hood and cap were added to these vestments evolving into the now academic long black gown. The gown proved comfortable for studying in unheated and drafty buildings and thus became a tradition in the universities. The gown also served as a social symbol, as it was impractical for physical manual work. For distinction the hood was often adorned with the colours of the colleges and hence, designated the young scholar’s university affiliation. Thus by their distinctive clothing, the students were set apart and distinguished from the citizens of the town; hence the phrase “town and gown”.

Unfortunately, these days one can hardly distinguish between a student (of Institution of higher learning) from a truck pusher or vagabond in the street. The gown are now only worn during matriculation or convocation ceremonies.

THE UNIVERSITY AS SANCTUARY

The idea of a school of higher learning as a distinct and autonomous institution within an urban setting dates back to the Academy founded by Plato in  387 BC. The Academy was established as a sacred sanctuary for learning outside the city walls of Athens.

The  early medieval universities that came into existence in the 12th century,– first in Italy and then across Europe – were founded without physical campuses. The masters simply rented lecture halls in the host cities. Most students took lodging in the university towns. The scholars often congregated in identifiable areas of the cities. Thus, the medieval institutions were more integrated into the cities than in the case of the Academy. However, the universities were largely independent of municipal revenues and, to a great extent, of civil authority;  the towns themselves had legal systems totally different from those of the universities. The protection from civil law gave students free rein in the urban environs to break secular laws with near impunity. This often led to abuses and outright criminal behavior among students who realized they enjoyed immunity from civil authorities. The anomalous jurisdictional situation only exacerbated tensions between town and gown.

 

Naturally, the initial relationship between the medieval universities and the host towns was adversarial; the universities’ growing autonomy and independence from local control led to increasing tensions with host communities. Also, the steady encroachment of universities upon neighboring areas created a point of contention between town and gown. This has continued to the present day.

From another perspective many university students were foreigners with exotic manners and dresses who spoke and wrote “foreign language”. Students often did not speak the local dialect, and most uneducated townspeople spoke no English. The language barrier and the cultural differences did nothing to improve relations between scholars and townspeople. Even the staff of the universities saw themselves as better placed both economically and socially. On the other hand, the townspeople see the university staff as those reaping from their endowment  and denying them access to the proceed of heir landed property. The tenor of town–gown relations becomes a matter of arrogance on the one hand and resentment on the other.

IMPORTANTANCE OF TOWN/GOWN RELATIONSHIP

Why should we be interested in Town and Gown Relationship?. In order to understand the importance of Town and Gown Relationship it is necessary to understand the unique characteristics of Town and Gown. Especially, with the Federal Government’s policy of not providing accommodation for students within the campus, the overflow of students into the host communities has increased tremendously. What this means is that, ab initio, the higher institutions have naturally been extended into the host communities. Both as students and staff this has great implications.

The study of Town/Gown relations is important  because it is the leadership of the university and the city which determines the quality and quantity of town gown relations in our time and every other time. The reason for this is that there is no necessity for the promotion of town gown relations inherent in the idea of the university. It is an ancillary activity in that it is neither teaching, nor research, nor service to the public. However, the university prince who is feared and loved, on the campus as well as in the city, can advance his university very effectively

 

The people in Gown diligently pursue the development and dissemination of ideas arising out of their own particular disciplines: while in the city people go about their trades and businesses living without knowing it in a world fashioned by the university. The two occupations are so different that it is no wonder that the history of town gown relations is so troubled.

The Gown is inhabited by individuals who are bold, courageous, assertive, adventurous, inquisitive and devoted to research for development. It also comprises of a “mixed multitude” – the mature, the immature, cultural diversity etc. On the other hand, the Town is composed of a “homogeneous race.”  Following from this, there is need to marry the one with the other.

Town and gown relationship is beneficial to both the Town and to the gown. Cordial relationship of the Gown and its community results in peace, stability, security and progress. The Town provides the environment within which the Gown can thrive. The Gown also provides opportunity for economic and social growth for the Town. Hence, any strained relation between the Town and the Gown will definitely be detrimental to healthy growth and development for both parties.

THE AKANU IBIAM FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC, UNWANA EXPERIENCE

Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana was established in October 1981as the Federal Polytechnic, Unwana- Afikpo and took off at the Federal Government College, Okposi, Ohaozara LGA. In May 1982 it admitted 178 pioneer students in the Departments of Business Administration, Secretarial Studies, Electrical/Electronics Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. All the programmes were at the National Diploma (ND) level. On June 9th, 1987 during its Foundation Laying Ceremony, the Institution was renamed AKANU IBIAM FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC, UNWANA, in honour of the legendary Late Ezeogo Isiali I of Unwana, Elder Dr. Akanu Ibiam.  That same year the Institution packed over to its permanent site at Unwana where you are today.

Within these years the Town and Gown relationship has witnessed both major and minor ups and downs.

Since the Polytechnic came to this town there have only been two remarkable ugly incidents. One occurred in 2001 and the other in 2007.

In 2003 an election fracas in the campus spilled over into the Unwana Community. Rampaging students invades the community damaging market stalls, scattering the market and wounding some innocent townspeople. The Unwana youth responded with swift reprisals and the Polytechnic became a “battle ground”. The s tuition got so bad that even students of Unwana origin lost their friends and the name Unwana struck terror in every student and staff. The Polytechnic lost its source of good water as the community stopped the polytechnic from fetching any water within the community. In fact, there was this slogan that the fear of Unwana was the beginning of wisdom.

The management did not help matters as it reneged on its promise to rebuild the stalls that were damaged during the students invasion talk less of treating those that were inflicted with injuries. It  took the intervention of the President General of the town union who happened to be a staff of the polytechnic for the polytechnic to return to the waters. It also took time and other circumstances to heal the wound inflicted by that singular reckless action.

Another ugly incident took place in 2007 when a townswoman, a retired headmistress, was murdered within the polytechnic premises by people suspected to be cultists.  The  community was so enraged that the youth invaded the polytechnic that for nearly one week the Institution was virtually closed down. Thanks to the good sense of the polytechnic management that quickly went into peaceful negotiations with the community.

It is worthy of note that there was very minimal loss of property in the two incidents and there was no loss of life.

Today the town-gown relationship is witnessing cordiality and this has led to cooperation between the Town and the Gown in many areas. For example, the polytechnic has continued to allow the natives to continue to farm on the undeveloped portion of the polytechnic land. The polytechnic is also granting easement to the community to reach their farmlands which are situated behind the polytechnic.

The cordial relationship has also led to the establishment of a Joint Security Committee. That the institution witnesses minimal cult activities can be attributed to the operation of the joint security as cult members find difficult to operate both within and outside the polytechnic.

The cordial relationship has also given staff the confidence to invest in the community. In fact, the price of land is so exorbitant in the community, all thanks to polytechnic staff investment in landed property in the community.

The students feel comfortable living within the community as they go about their business unmolested. In fact, there is not restraint even as to the time of the day or night  they are allowed to move about.

IMPROVING TOWN AND GOWN RELATIONSHIP

Town and Gown have of recent become increasingly connected in common use of facilities such as electricity, telephone, transportation and road network. In order to sustain this synergy I  recommend that Institution’s programmes and policies should be planned  to meet the needs of the communities, a forum for friends of the Institution should be established.  Government should include in its funding of the Institution a Town/Gown fund to help the Institution to be socially responsible to the Town.

The host community has donated their farm land for the building of the Institution, hence, there is need for “perpetual compensation” to the host community. In terms of employment, admissions etc, the host community should be recognized as a matter of policy.

The Gown should not look down on the Town. Members of the Gown should also realize that they come from communities and some times even less developed communities than the  community. They should, therefore.  empathize with the host community. I believe that no one will like his community to be ridiculed or disdained. That the community hosts an Institution that provides their income should offer enough reason for respect and recognition. On the part of the host community, it should recognize that it is a privilege, and not a right that the Institution, is situated on their land. The  numerous gains from the Institution should not be lost on the community. Such gains include improved standard of living, improved social status occasioned by improved income generated from transactions with the Gown, ease with which their children can now acquire education etc.

Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, Executive Governor of Niger State in a paper presented on the 60th Anniversary Lecture of the University of Ibadan on October 30, 2008 proposed what he called Town-Gown Transactional Model for Socio-economic and Political Development. In this model, he proposed that “the walls of the ‘Ivory Tower’ which isolate and alienate the university from the community must be broken down be broken down both physically and metaphorically and replaced with the concept of the ‘engaged university’ which seeks to understand the complex problems of society through interaction, collaboration, partnership, participation and consultation with a view to solving them for socio-economic and political development of a people.

An example of this type of relationship can be actualized by, for example, the students of the polytechnic organizing extra mural classes for the secondary school(s) in the community. This has mutual benefits through the “demonstration effect”.

The Polytechnic can also encourage the Community to use their facilities such as hall for wedding and other social engagements.

The Polytechnic can also organize what I call “Open Day” in which  Expo would be held in which departments open their doors for a whole weekend.
Attendance by the public will help them appreciate more the place of the Institution in their lives

The Institution should also ensure, by making recommendation to government, that the host community has representation in the Governing Council of the Institution.

For healthy living, growth and development on  the part of both the Town and the Gown there is need for symbiotic relationship and not one that is characterized by arrogance on the part of the Gown and disdain on the part of the Town.

Ladies and gentlemen as you contribute to a cordial and overflowing relationship between the Polytechnic and the host community  I wish you fruitful and successful career.

 

Thank you.

EVENTS
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