A patriotic professor puts school on hold Catonsville: His college is wondering when -- or if -- the tenured business professor will return from being spokesman for Sierra Leone's president.

The Education Beat

July 01, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT'S THE CASE of the (almost) vanishing professor.

Septimus Kaikai was teaching a business course and chairing a major academic division at Catonsville Community College early last March when he asked for a few days' leave to attend to his ailing father in Sierra Leone.

Several days later, he appeared in news reports as the spokesman for Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Overthrown in a 1997 coup, Kabbah had just been reinstated after ousting a military junta in the West African nation.

Kaikai, 56, remains in Sierra Leone, where numerous attempts to reach him by telephone have been unsuccessful. So far as is known, his only contact with friends and associates in the United States, including his employer, is a handwritten fax to Catonsville President Frederick J. Walsh in early June.

"He said he was stuck and couldn't get out," Walsh said. "He didn't say when or if he would get out."

But Walsh said Kaikai, a 29-year employee in good standing, had enough saved vacation time to carry him into the summer and can return to his teaching duties if he shows up for the fall semester by Aug. 15. (The division chairmanship was due to be eliminated today in the reorganization of Baltimore County community colleges.)

"He's a tenured professor, and he has an unblemished record," Walsh said. "The disconcerting thing is his lack of communication."

Why would a highly regarded professor suddenly leave a comfortable, $69,500 job to travel to one of the world's most unstable and dangerous countries? Apparently, it's a case of patriotism. The Kaikai family has close ties with President Kabbah and his wife, Patricia, who died this spring. News reports said "Professor" Kaikai was prominent among those "friends of the family" who attended her funeral.

In fact, had Catonsville officials any reason to keep tabs on their employee, they would have seen that he was introduced publicly at the State Department as Kabbah's spokesman back in May 1997 -- 10 months before Kaikai's vanishing act.

Kabbah, however, was chased into temporary exile in neighboring Guinea, and Kaikai remained on the job in the academic groves of Catonsville.

Kaikai's brother, Alpha Y. Kaikai, 53, who is also on the faculty at Catonsville, took over the business class when Septimus left in March. Alpha said he had not heard from his brother since an early spring telephone call.

Walsh said he had mailed a couple of letters to Kaikai in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital. "There was no reply," he said. "Frankly, we feel that it's sort of up to him to contact us."

"We want to protect Kaikai as a valued employee, but this can't go on forever. The drop-dead date for his return is Aug. 15."

Coppin State, Morgan State included in historic site list

All of a sudden, Coppin State College President Calvin W. Burnett and Morgan State University President Earl S. Richardson found themselves working in historic sites. Never mind that neither of their offices is old enough to qualify for any historic designation.

What happened was that the National Trust for Historic Preservation last Monday placed all 103 of the nation's historically black colleges and universities on the list of America's most endangered historic sites.

Richardson explained:

"Many of the campuses are in dire need of capital improvement, and many of them date back to the 1800s or early 1900s, and so we didn't want to see them disappear. They've made major contributions to the education of African-Americans, so we felt they are worth preserving."

Having the schools on the endangered list as a group, Richardson said, will give them more visibility and increase their chances of receiving federal aid.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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