Council of Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) recently announced that Professor Lourens van Staden will continue to act as vice-chancellor for the next three years. Van Staden had been acting in the position since December 2014, when Nthabiseng Ogude suddenly resigned.
Bandile Masuku, chairperson of council, said in a statement that announcing the extension of Van Staden’s appointment by three years was a considered option against calling for applications.
“The recruitment process for a new head of a tertiary institution is an extremely intense process and may create further unnecessary uncertainty at the institution at this stage,” said Masuku.
This week, Masuku told the Mail & Guardian that council, which is the highest governance body at the institution, exercised its authority in favour of continuity and stability.
“It’d be unfair to bring in somebody new in the current environment. It’s about continuity, but what’s also important for us is stability.
“Van Staden understands the environment. We appreciated that there has been a general sense of stability since he started acting [in the position].”
He said council was “confident” everything in the institution will be in order “when we start the recruitment process in 2018”. “We’re not saying that process won’t happen.”
Senior academics usually go through a demanding, highly-contested selection process when applying to become university vice-chancellor.
Former Vice Chancellors
The vice-chancellor office at TUT has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice throughout recent years. After two years of her five-year contract, last November Ogude became the third successive vice-chancellor to vacate the position before the end of contract.
The M&G reported that she did not resign voluntarily, but was pushed out by council. Council had officially said she resigned “to pursue other career options”. However, council insiders subsequently told the M&G the structure felt it was necessary Ogude leaves owing to a broken working relationship in executive management.
“The institution is facing many challenges. We felt we should bring in someone who can unite management,” said a council source.
In 2010, then vice-chancellor Errol Tyobeka was shown the door after five years at the helm. The university’s council at the time cited a breakdown of relationship with Tyobeka and advertised his job. But the office faced its biggest scandal in 2011 when the council appointed Johnny Molefe, who had a fake doctorate.
Molefe was fired in that same year and Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande dissolved the then council and placed the institution under administration. Van Staden was one of five shortlisted candidates for vice-chancellor of TUT when Molefe was appointed. “Remember we’re from an era where we were under administration,” said Masuku.
But Masuku would not be drawn on specific problems that still rendered TUT unstable. “Like all other universities, there’s none that you can say are stable. There is no institution that can say it doesn’t have challenges it’s dealing with,” he said.
“Even the universities that [the media] always write positively about, your likes of Wits University have their own challenges. You go to the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University they have their transformation challenges.”
Van Staden holds a doctorate from the former Rand Afrikaans University on “curriculum development at technikons”.
TUT is one of the institutions in the country most prone to student protests, often over a shortage of funding.
Students again revolted earlier this year when it became apparent they would be excluded because they still owed the university fees and were in debt as a result.
The institution was established on January 1 2004, when the government merged Pretoria Technikon, located near the city centre, with the then Soshanguve-based Technikon Northern Gauteng and Technikon North-West in Ga-Rankuwa. It now also has satellite campuses in two Mpumalanga towns, Mbombela and Emalahleni, and Polokwane in Limpopo.
It is the biggest contact university in South Africa, enrolling approximately 60 000 students each year and employs more than 2 700 permanent staff members.