Nigerian academics and the bastardisation of festschrift

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The production of a festschrift is neither a professional right of passage nor a substitute for producing original research work.

It is not a short cut to amassing publication counts. And only highly accomplished senior scholar-mentors in the twilight of their careers deserve a festschrift.

The idea of producing a festschrift for mid-career scholars, scholars with only a few years of postdoctoral experience, and/or scholars with a thin publication and research resume is absurd.

The festschrift is not a venue for vacuous and cringe-worthy praise-singing or for comments on the physical and emotional qualities of the person being honored. Save that for his/her retirement party.

As an illustration of how that genre has deteriorated in Nigerian academia, here is an excerpt from an actual festschrift in honor of a senior female scholar in a Nigerian university:

“She is a committed Christian of the Catholic faith. Her elegance and well endowed endomorphic figure earned her the pet name, (vernacular phrase omitted), by her admirers; meaning, literally, ‘robust, hairy and beautiful lady.”’

Where does one even begin with this excerpt? Do you begin from the crass inappropriateness of it, or from its cringe-worthiness in this and perhaps any context since the writer here is commenting on someone’s spouse, or from the crude sexism, or from the offensive objectification of an accomplished scholar and the reduction of her worth to her physical attributes?

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The festschrift is a great idea meant to celebrate accomplished academics and to document the influence, breadth, and depth of their work and scholarly legacy. But as happens with every noble idea that goes to Nigeria, our colleagues at home have bastardised and abused it to irrelevance. They have turned it into a farcical mockery of its original purpose.

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