[DEBATE] : (Fwd) UKZN Report blasted
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Thu May 21 07:16:55 BST 2009
Unclear UKZN Report
20 May 2009
Last year the University of KwaZulu-Natal appointed a seven-person
Governance and Academic Freedom Committee to probe accusations that UKZN
vice chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba was managing the institution with an
iron hand and curbing academic freedom. This week the committee reported
that, despite 103 submissions to the contrary, it had found no evidence
of infringement of academic freedom at UKZN, and no threat to the right
to teach, study and do research there. It did note that “a sector”
within the university fears that when it voices opinions going beyond
teaching, study and research, its rights to freedom of expression may be
suppressed and it may be subjected to disciplinary action. The committee
found that race, racism and transformation are “a major challenge” to
the institution, and recommended that a joint task team review
disciplinary policies, processes and procedures.
In a separate report, Selby Baqwa, SC, appointed independent observer
over the committee, approved its findings, ignoring questions relating
to its legitimacy raised by the National Tertiary Education Staff Union
and others. The union had submitted that the selection of committee
members had been designed by university management “and their cronies”.
While the full report will be made public after it’s tabled before the
university senate on May 27, its full text is unlikely to be more
enlightening than the summary released to the press on Monday, weighty
with long words and bewildering jargon. Those who care about UKZN are
all too aware of the recent history of acrimony and unhappiness there,
of protest and of its regular muzzling by Makgoba. They’re aware, too —
if only because of articles by various academic figures in this
newspaper — that UKZN has become a place unconducive to teaching, study
and research, a place where the primary aim is no longer the
time-honoured “search for truth” but to be run dictatorially as a
business by tiers of managers receiving huge salaries. In light of this,
it seems probable that the report of this committee, disregarding over
100 submissions, and repeatedly trotting out stale catchwords without
giving clear definitions or precise instances, is a whitewash, designed
to maintain the status quo, cement Makgoba’s position, and silence
justifiable protest for good. If there are problems at the university
they need to be teased out in public, with full and detailed
explanations and plans for their solution. The committee’s report does
none of these things.
Mixed reaction to UKZN report
May 20, 2009 Edition 1
THE FINDINGS of a special committee set up to investigate governance and
academic freedom at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have been welcomed,
but its "self-serving definition" of academic freedom has drawn flak.
This week the university released the executive summary of a report by
the governance and academic freedom committee.
The body was appointed by the university's council in December following
a controversial public debate on academic freedom sparked by a series of
events involving disciplinary action taken against physics professor
Nithaya Chetty and mathematics professor John van den Berg in July last
year. The pair were alleged to have brought the university into
disrepute by communicating with the media.
Jane Duncan, of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), said the
committee defined academic freedom so "narrowly" the university's
broader disputes had not been addressed.
"The right to teach, learn and research was not really the issue. What
was questioned was the right of academics to criticise the manner in
which teaching, learning and research happen at a university; the right
for them to engage in public debates and comment to the media," Duncan said.
"The Unesco definition of academic freedom considers this and is much
broader. If they had considered this they would have had to arrive at
the conclusion that there have been violations on academic freedom.
Their definition is self-serving."
Duncan said the FXI welcomed recommendations that UKZN's dispute
resolution mechanisms be reviewed and that the "underscoring" race,
racism and transformation remained an issue.
The chairman of the National Tertiary Education Staff Union at UKNZ,
Nirmala Gopal, said the recommendations were positive.
"I hope there will be some kind of watchdog mechanism to ensure the
outcomes are being achieved in some way. We should give this a chance
and hope at the end of the day we arrive at a better working and
learning environment for all."
Chetty, now an associate professor at the University of Pretoria, said
the fight for an intellectually freer UKZN would be "long and arduous".
He said the many controversies that had "dogged" UKZN over recent years
had severely undermined everything the institution could be.
"Seen in this light, the recommendations of the committee are only a
first step to righting the course of the be- leaguered institution. It
is my hope that all sectors within the university - and especially the
management - will work conscientiously to realise the outcomes of this
Independent assessor Selby Baqwa, SC, released his findings on the
committee's processes earlier this week. He said the processes were
"transparent, credible, lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair".
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