Staff union says a new vice-chancellor will have a lot to clean up around transformation, “nepotism, gender-based discrimination and violence, mental and emotional wellbeing, bullying, victimisation” and staff workloads. 

The president of the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) says the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Prof Adam Habib, was “pretty obviously a well-orchestrated public relations release and the narrative that emerged over those few days was plenty of accolades being heaped on the vice-chancellor”.

Dr Anthony Stacey was reacting to Habib’s resignation which was announced by the university in February. The announcement was followed by a roadshow by Habib on several media outlets such as eNCA.

Stacey told Wits Vuvuzela that after “getting feedback from members saying that this did not equate to their lived experience” the union released its own statement on the VC’s tenure.

While conceding that “student enrolments, graduates, and research output have all increased during his tenure”, the union attributed this to “the tireless and selfless endeavours of Asawu members and our academic, professional and administrative staff colleagues”.

Asawu’s February 25 statement listed a variety of challenges during Habib’s seven years at the helm of the institution. These included:

  • “Academic staff members have not increased in proportion to student numbers;
  • Millions of rand was paid in executive bonuses;
  • The post-retirement medical aid benefits to which all employees were entitled were effectively abolished; and
  • There has been ongoing controversy over the handling of incidents of gender-based violence and abuse.”

Stacey said, “We are just getting the feeling that [Habib’s claimed achievements] was an unbalanced view. He said the union’s statement was not meant to undermine or target the vice-chancellor, but was in line with Asawu’s two pillars – academic integrity and social justice.  “We want [academic integrity and social justice] for the good of the university community and not just our members. We should be working together, and it was in that spirit that the statement was put out.”

Habib told Wits Vuvuzela that he agreed with the substance of Asawu’s response, acknowledging the great productivity at Wits due to the academic and administrative staff. However, “I didn’t think that the way it was written was entirely honest,” he said.

He went on to say that, as a vice-chancellor, people should “judge me on the indicators you would for any university in the world: output graduates; number of postgraduates; number of research outputs. Is [the university] financially stable? Is it a transforming institution?

“And when you judge me according to that, even according to the union’s own statement we are shooting the lights out.”

Asawu’s statement also noted that academics supervising more classes or students could have a negative effect on the quality of work produced. “Academic staff are now tasked with maintaining research outputs and high quality teaching while battling with increased class sizes and supervision workloads.”

This was an area of concern for the union because of the university’s introduction of performance-based remuneration, which is “in contravention of the university’s Remuneration and Reward Policy and despite research demonstrating its ineffectiveness and inappropriateness in academic institutions”, according to Asawu’s statement.

“I cannot give the best quality education if I have got to teach 10 different courses,” Stacey told Wits Vuvuzela.

Noting this, however, Habib said his job as vice-chancellor had been “to create an enabling environment for the enhancement of productivity”.

“If you want to do public accountability, let’s do it honestly and transparently; let’s do it thoughtfully. I will make sure we deliver until the last day I am here,” Habib said.

Habib will step down at the end of 2020, to take up the directorship of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Adam Habib says he has created an enabling environment as Wits vice-chancellor. Photo: Anna Moross


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