Academic turnaround king or Canute?

Monako Dibetle interviews the man sent to turn around the fortunes of one of academia’s most mocked institutions

The biggest challenge professor Jonathan Jansen anticipates as the newly appointed administrator at troubled Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) is getting people to believe that things can change.

Jansen told the Mail & Guardian this week that he would first give staff and students a sense that they will be treated with respect and that their concerns will be addressed. He said restoring staff and student confidence at MUT is more crucial than dealing with managerial and leadership problems.

Education minister Naledi Pandor appointed Jansen as administrator for MUT on the advice of her independent assessor Dr Vincent Maphai.

Pandor appointed Maphai to investigate the situation at MUT last year after the university council forced vice chancellor Aaron Ndlovu to take leave.
In December, following Maphai’s report on governance, management and employee relations at MUT, Ndlovu was suspended.

The MUT council announced that it would institute a forensic investigation of the university’s affairs. The council agreed to the appointment of an administrator to run the campus, as recommended by the Maphai report.

Ndlovu, who was suspended on charges of financial mismanagement, is South Africa’s highest paid vice chancellor with an annual salary of R3,7-million. He has been accused of running the university like a fiefdom with all academic and administrative decisions being made through his office alone.

Ndlovu became vice chancellor of the Mangosuthu Technikon (now Mangosuthu University of Technology) in 1997. In September 1999 independent assessor Jaap Durand was appointed by former education minister Kader Asmal to investigate the situation after a dispute between a staff union and the institution. The assessor recommended Ndlovu’s sacking, but a council resolution over-ruled this and lifted the vice chancellor’s suspension.

This is not the first time that Jansen has been appointed administrator at a troubled institution. In August 2006 Pandor appointed Jansen as administrator at the Durban University of Technology to restore governance and management structures. Jansen, who is expected to begin his duties at MUT this month, said the most important thing is to get the university focused on quality teaching and research production and “winning back people’s confidence.”

Jansen’s terms of reference include taking over the authority of the management and administration of the MUT for an initial period of six months, with the possibility of an extension for a further six months. He is to identify and implement processes and initiatives that restore proper management and administration at the university and assist council to restore proper governance at MUT. This includes the establishment of necessary council sub-committees and the drafting and submission to Pandor of a new statute for the university.

In consultation with council, Jansen will have to initiate and conclude the forensic audit of the university and implement disciplinary procedures against members of staff arising from any investigations - including the forensic audit.

He will also have to ensure that the university has a legally constituted council in terms of the new statute to be approved by Pandor.

Jansen said a forensic audit on the goings on at MUT is supposed to be underway and that he is still to make sense of what has been done so far. He said his appointment creates an opportunity to make university staff and students understand that the university is theirs.

“At the moment people are very scared,” he stressed. “My aim is to be as consultative and decisive as possible in order to focus on creating an environment of teaching and research,” said Jansen.

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