‘Whistle-blower’ takes UJ to court

Former University of Johannesburg professor Colin Chasi wants his job back — and an apology. (Rian Horn)

Former University of Johannesburg professor Colin Chasi wants his job back — and an apology. (Rian Horn)

A former University of Johannesburg (UJ) professor has accused the university’s humanities dean of undermining his black colleagues and calling them “appallingly stupid” for questioning the university’s response to the #FeesMustFall protests.

The claims are made in papers filed at the Labour Court, the latest ina three-year battle between Professor Colin Chasi — who was fired last year — the university and dean Alex Broadbent.

Chasi accuses the university’s management of going out of its way to protect Broadbent, despite complaints that he sabotaged transformation in the faculty through irregular appointments and undermining his black colleagues.

Chasi, who wants his job back and an apology, says he was unfairly dismissed for being a whistle-blower. The university said it would not answer detailed questions, saying the matter was sub judice, adding that it follows fair and proper procedures in all dismissals.

Chasi alleges that Broadbent, a philosophy professor, was appointed dean of humanities despite being the inferior candidate. Broadbent was appointed to the position in March 2015 above black and female full professors, despite only being an associate professor at the time, says Chasi.

Broadbent also irregularly supplemented his application for promotion to full professor by adding to his incomplete teaching portfolio — to allow him to meet the minimum qualification for the position— the day before his interview, says the court statement.

Once appointed, Broadbent brough this protégés into his department, “following an improper process”, says the statement.
It adds that one of the appointments circumvented the rule that the candidate “could not be appointed if there was any qualifying employment equity candidate”.

Chasi’s court papers claim Broadbent did this to pad his own research niche and to eventually motivate UJ to establish a research centre in his field. The African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science was launched last year.

Chasi considered Broadbent’s actions as bullying and violations of academic freedom.

He said at his disciplinary hearing that Broadbent revealed one reason he privileged certain departments was he believed senior academics in other departments were “appallingly stupid” for publicly voicing concerns about universities’ responses to the #FeesMustFall protests.

When Chasi submitted a report to senior management detailing the allegations, he was directed to either drop his complaints or to immediately resign as vice-dean.

Chasi alleges that after he resigned as vice-dean he was assured the UJ would protect him from reprisal. But, he says, Broadbent punished him by frustrating the efforts of his department, the department of communication studies, to hire staff.

Chasi also alleges Broadbent bullied the head of the communications department, Professor Nyasha Mboti, calling him “less than half-competent”.

Mboti told the Mail & Guardian this was “a humiliating episode”that reduced him to tears.

After attempting to pursue his complaints against Broadbent further, Chasi received a formal notice to attend a disciplinary hearing into allegations of gross misconduct against him, say the papers. The hearings took place over 24 days from January to September 2017.

The original charges related to Chasi making “unjustified and false allegations”but were allegedly amended to add additional charges: that he had been grossly insolent, disrespectful and threatening to Broadbent.

Chasi alleges that he called Mboti as a witness and Broadbent attempted to “induce him not to testify at all”. Mboti confirmed this to the M&G.

On October 31 last year, Chasi received formal notice and a copy of a 160-page judgment recommending his dismissal for charges of gross misconduct. Chasi was denied leave to appeal the judgment.

Broadbent declined to respond to questions posed by the M&G. UJ spokesperson Lebogang Seale says the university “prides itself on treating all of its employees fairly and consistently, and in following fair and proper procedures in all cases”.

A senior faculty member, who asked not to be named, says black staff were intimidated into silence by Chasi’s dismissal and that Broadbent has effectively “captured” the faculty.

“It seems to me that the university’s top management is protecting Broadbent, despite mounting evidence that ... his leadership has been disastrous for transformation and equity,” he said.

This article was amended to reflect comment from the university that was omitted during editing. 

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit both subs and writes for the Mail & Guardian. She joined the M&G after completing her master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cape Town. She is interested in the literature of the contemporary black diaspora and its intersection with queer aesthetics of solidarity. Her recent work considers the connections between South African literary history and literature from the rest of the Continent. Read more from Sarah Smit

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