A crush at UKZN's exits

As the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) management circulates a persona non grata list ensuring that certain staff members are not reemployed, the Mail & Guardian has learned that the university has lost 45 staff members in the past year.

Some of those who left cite irreconcilable differences with university management over academic freedom and other issues.

The UKZN management has drawn up an effective blacklist, sending a circular to deans and department heads stating that staffers who have “resigned or entered into a termination agreement to avoid being dismissed” may not be re-employed. “This list is referred to as the Persona Non Grata List.
[It] is confidential and is retained by the Division of Human Resources and Equity,” the circular said.

Other universities, particularly the University of Johannesburg (UJ), are cashing in on UKZN’s continuing academic and support staff departures. Ten former UKZN staffers recently joined or are about to join UJ.

In December, the UKZN council appointed an internal panel to investigate complaints of lack of academic freedom at the university.

This week the M&G interviewed four disgruntled staff members who left UKZN. They said there was widespread dissatisfaction with the university’s management style.

Most staff departures have reportedly taken place in the humanities faculty. Recently, the politics department lost nine staff members, including four well-regarded researchers.

Extensively published anthropologist Professor David Moore moved to UJ last year, while another politics researcher, Professor Raphael de Kadt, joined St Augustine College.

Earlier this year Professor Lawrence Hamilton, a P-rated (outstanding young) researcher, also moved to UJ. Another high-profile researcher, Professor Laurence Piper, left for the University of the Western Cape.

In an interview with the M&G Moore said the authoritarian management climate, combined with extreme administrative inefficiency, made it difficult to work at UKZN. “UJ seems the only university handling transformation issues with willingness and good faith,” he said.

A senior administrator who has also left the university, and who asked to remain anonymous, said UKZN’s management style promoted infighting between and within departments.

Her resignation was prompted by mistreatment of staff, “generally negative internal politics” and the university’s refusal to pay tutors.

She claimed the university merger had created a platform for “some people to trample all over staff, especially in the administration”.

A recent high-profile resignation was that of UKZN faculty of science and agriculture dean John Cooke, who quit last month for the University of Botswana. Cooke could not be contacted last week, but his department was embroiled in controversy last year after staff members complained about lack of academic freedom at UKZN.

The controversy also led to the resignation of physics professor Nithaya Chetty, who was hauled before a disciplinary committee. Chetty moved to the University of Pretoria.

Two weeks ago university spokesperson Sejal Desai denied all knowledge of a staff exodus at UKZN. But she said that if there is such an exodus, it needs to be investigated.

Meanwhile, UJ is also attracting top Wits University academics. Wits student newspaper Vuvuzela reports that in the past year, the university lost 12 lecturers from its reputable medical faculty—seven of whom joined UJ.

Recently UJ appointed two senior researchers from Wits’s prestigious education policy unit.

Confirming the appointments of Salim Vally and Everard Weber, UJ’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, Adam Habib, said that the unit would not be moving to UJ in its entirety, as previously reported.

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