L.I.S.A.: Have you ever encountered problems in the realization of your academic career?
Michael Okyere Asante: I have encountered many, but I will limit them to two major ones.
The first major problem I faced stemmed from the misconceptions about Classics and such traditional humanities subjects. When the University of Ghana offered me a combination of Classics, Philosophy, Sociology and Economics, my dad sent me off to his friend, a secondary school teacher, for advice on choice of major. I was told to drop the subjects in this order: Classics, Philosophy, Sociology—and major in Economics. By the end of my first year, I had fallen in love with Classics, and by the end of my third year, after Professor Kofi Ackah’s course on ‘Socrates and Plato’, I had decided my future career path. But from this point on, I would face some institutional and personal challenges. By deciding to major in Classics, I became the first student since the mid-1980s to do so, and I had only a limited number of courses to choose from, also partly due to a lack of teaching staff. I also could not inform my parents of my decision because they were eagerly expecting me to graduate with an Economics degree and land a job at one of the top-performing banks. For two years, my parents thought I was reading Economics; it was only a few months to my graduation that I informed them I had taken a Classics major instead.
The second problem relates to institutional policy and the lack of funding. By the time I was entering into the academic field of ancient philosophy as assistant lecturer with an MPhil degree, my university had introduced a policy that only allowed appointment of MPhil holders to a three-year terminal contract. The department at that time had only one full-time professor teaching at least five courses per semester. My appointment helped reduce the teaching load as I taught the language and ancient philosophy courses. But my contract was for three years; I had to obtain a PhD if I could continue teaching at the end of my contract. I was faced with two challenges: there was no Classics PhD programme in Ghana, and it was difficult securing funding to pursue a PhD overseas, particularly in ancient philosophy, an academic field which is unusual in my home country. I have lost count of the admissions I received without funding from overseas universities. The Lisa Maskell Fellowship is therefore a dream come true, and I am confident of succeeding in my chosen field of research.