/ 22 May 2009

Pityana shrugs off call to resign

University of South Africa (Unisa) vice-chancellor Barney Pityana is adamant that he will stay in his position, despite repeated calls for him to resign.

Briefing the media in Pretoria on Thursday after meeting the Young Communist League and the SA Students Congress (Sasco), Pityana said: ”You have not been invited to receive a notice of resignation by Barney Pityana.

”That’s not going to happen,” he said, laughing.

Pityana said he had met with the organisations where a wide range of issues were raised, including representation of the Student Representative Council (which had garnered less than one percent of student’s votes) academic support, and the 3 000 odd students who had been refused permission to write exams because academic fees had not been paid.

”What, of course, we couldn’t agree with them on, was the idea that Unisa was maladministrated. This culture of trying to campaign against management and leadership of institutions has got to come to an end.”

Speaking outside Unisa’s administrative building, Sasco president Mawethu Rune said that while the university had acknowledged the organisation’s serious concerns there was no doubt that Pityana needed to step aside.

”As the leadership we have no confidence he has the capacity to lead the process of resolving core issues.”

Rune said the student organisation would return to its members to brief them on what had been discussed. However he was adamant that no dramatic improvement could be made overnight.

He said mass action was still on the cards.

A rally planned at the university for Thursday was called off at the eleventh hour on Wednesday after management had agreed to meet with Sasco.

Asked how the meeting had gone, Pityana would only say: ”I don’t have a feeling.”

He responded similarly to questions that some students were calling for his head because he was affiliated to the newly formed Congress of the People.

”Whether they want me to resign or not, and for whatever reason, what I’m really saying is: ‘I’m not really interested’.”

Rune, however, reiterated that it was not a political witch hunt, and that Pityana’s proposed resignation was purely on the basis that he could not transform the collapsing university.

”To us there has never been a personal hatred of honourable Pityana,” said Rune.

During the briefing, Pityana and other department heads, including finance, said the university was unflinching that students need to have paid for their modules in order to write examinations.

He said Unisa remained the cheapest tertiary institution to study at and this could only remain the case if students fulfilled their contractual obligations to pay.

”At the end of the day we are saying that those students who failed to make arrangements [for part payments or through the various financing mechanisms] cannot write their examinations.

”It’s a moral question for us.”

Referring to the SRC which had failed to receive even one percent of students’ representation, he said it had to, for its own sake, be declared null and void.

He said new elections were currently under way and it was hoped that the body would gain more support to be revived.

As for the university collapsing, from the graduations this could hardly be said to be the case.

Pityana said by the end of the year, about 20 000 students would have graduated.

”Under the old Unisa in 2001, graduations were just under 10 000.”

Despite refusing to express any emotion on his own behalf about the attacks on the institution and himself, Pityana ended to briefing by thanking his colleagues for their support.

”I am getting so much amount of support from staff that feel enraged by the campaign that is being waged,” said Pityana. — Sapa