[DEBATE] : (Fwd) UKZNastiness continues
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun Dec 14 04:09:56 GMT 2008
UKZN academic freedom clash turns nasty
Prega Govender Published:Dec 14, 2008
Digging in: It’s not personal, says vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba
UKZN vice-chancellor in war of words with professor.
Professor Malegapuru Makgoba has been embroiled in a vicious spat with a
physics professor who resigned from the University of KwaZulu-Natal
after facing disciplinary charges for bringing the institution into
At the centre of the battle was a document about “academic freedom” and
how it ought to be practised at UKZN.
Associate physics professor Nithaya Chetty wanted the document debated
by the senate but the vice-chancellor handed it to an academic steering
Makgoba later sent strongly worded e-mails to Chetty, saying he should
focus on improving his “academic profile rather than pretend you can
lecture me on how to run the university”.
Chetty, 45, resigned last month before his disciplinary hearing. He was
charged for bringing the university into disrepute after commenting to
local newspapers that university debates were “racialised and
personalised to suppress dissent”.
His colleague, associate maths professor John van den Berg, faced
similar charges but avoided a disciplinary inquiry after signing a
A 2006 senate resolution warned university staff to “exercise due care”
when speaking to the media “so as not to bring the university into
Makgoba, a distinguished fellow of the Imperial College of London, heads
the country’s second most productive research university after the
University of Pretoria. But UKZN has been hit by numerous scandals,
including last year’s investigation into Shamim “Chippy” Shaik, who
plagiarised his engineering doctorate.
This week the university granted law faculty dean Professor Michael
Cowling early retirement, after he admitted to “negligently
misrepresenting” his qualifications.
Makgoba and Chetty went to war over the document compiled by the science
and agriculture faculty, which called for formal guidelines to govern
academic freedom at UKZN.
After Chetty, a senate member, protested to Makgoba that the academic
steering committee should not debate the document, Makgoba hit back in
an e-mail: “I get tired of dealing with self-serving agenda items.”
In another, Makgoba said: “Academic freedom is not a priority at UKZN
but an obsessive preoccupation of certain elements within the
university. You have got your priorities wrong again.”
Relations worsened after Chetty wrote to former university council
chairman Vincent Maphai, saying it was “scandalous” that Makgoba
“supported” university spokesman professor Dasarath Chetty in his failed
defamation lawsuit and unsuccessful appeal against University of Rhodes
sociology professor Jimi Adesina, who had written an open letter to
Dasarath Chetty accusing him of attempting to gag academics.
Makgoba fired back: “The university is not facing financial difficulty
because of this but because of poor-performing academics, who direct
their energy to matters peripheral to their obligations.”
After Nithaya Chetty signed his e-mail to Maphai as president of the SA
Institute of Physics, Makgoba responded: “Your title at the university
is associate professor. That is the only title you should use in
official communication. These other embellishments are an embarrassment.”
After his resignation last month, the university barred Chetty from
holding his farewell on campus, saying it was not an official event.
Makgoba denied that his dispute with Chetty was personal. He said that
while most top professors at UKZN were productive researchers, Chetty
had not met this criterion for the past five years.
UKZN council chairman Mac Mia said on Friday that a team would be set up
to probe the university’s governance structures and the extent to which
it fostered or inhibited academic freedom.
But another academic, who asked not to be named, said many were
“extremely nervous” about speaking out. “They have seen what happens
when you annoy the vice-chancellor.”
Chetty, who starts work at the University of Pretoria next month, said
academic freedom was “dead” at UKZN, adding: “My comments were in the
realm of fair comment and yet I was treated so harshly.
“The message it sends out is that if you don’t just simply focus on your
immediate responsibilities of teaching and research, you will be in very
serious trouble.” — govenderp at sundaytimes.co.za
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