In with the new, out with the old

Wits plans to employ 30 new A-grade lecturers but current lecturers are concerned this might create a “two-tier” university.

Wits has committed around R30-million for these new lecturers as part of its mission to improve the university’s research output and profile. The president of the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) David Dickinson said even though the organisation supports the recruitment of top academics they were concerned about the way their appointment was being suggested.

“We don’t want them to be isolated from other academics and lecturers,” said Dickinson.
Dickinson said they did not want a situation that creates two types of lecturers: “First grade lecturers whose only responsibility is research and second grade lectures who take on all the responsibilities of teaching.”

Dickinson said at the moment it sounded as if the new lecturers would be coming in to focus mainly on research: “Asawu’s view is that workloads should be equally distributed to allow all Wits academics to be research active and that Wits should not be allowed to become a ‘two-tier university’.”

In a recent e-mail he sent to lecturers, Dickinson said a recent survey of Wits academics indicated they were often over-burdened with teaching and administrative responsibilities that “crowd out” research.

[pullquote align=”right”]“First grade lecturers whose only responsibility is research and second grade lectures who take on all the responsibilities of teaching.”[/pullquote]

The importance of research

According to Dinesh Balliah, a new media lecturer at Wits, lecturers are expected to perform in three areas – teaching, administration and research: “Research is the most important one as lecturers get promoted based on their research.”

In the email, Dickinson asked lecturers who felt strongly about the appointments to send him their views. In less than 24 hours he said he had received over 40 responses.
“Lecturers welcome the appointments but they have concerns about the responsibilities of the new lecturers,” said Dickinson.

The positions will be advertised in major newspapers from August 16 to August 29 this year.
Wits also planned to add 100 more postdoctoral fellows to the 117 already existing. It wants to become more of a postgraduate, research-driven institution. This would bring “fresh ideas into the university – and some extensions of existing post-docs that are highly productive,” said Robin Drennan, director of research development at Wits.

Academics boycott university meetings

THE Academic Staff Union of Wits University (Asawu) has embarked on a boycott of all university meetings in an attempt to bring the university to a halt.

The indefinite boycott started on August 20 and involves 750 Asawu members who will also boycott aspects of the new performance management system.

Asawu President Prof David Dickinson said these meetings make decisions about many important things including the curriculum, marking and examinations. “Without these meetings these core functions of the university cannot proceed,” Dickinson said.

Speaking on behalf of Wits management, Dr. Kgomotso Kasonkola, Director of Human Resources said deans and heads of schools had been asked to make arrangements to ensure that administrative and other activities of the university continue to run. “We believe that our colleagues do not intend to undermine the interests of students or to disrupt the academic programme,” Kasonkola said.

Asawu made their grievances public with a strike earlier this month.  The strike on August 2 was attended by approximately 1 000 support staff and academics according to the union.

The academic union has planned another one-day strike on Tuesday, August 28 supported by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (Altsa). An Asawu statement advised all students to study at home on August 28 and seek guidance from their lecturers on what to study.

The protestors demand competitive salaries and increased research funding, among other things.

Kasonkola said: “Senior management is concerned that the current salary demands by the unions will exert pressure on student fees to ensure institutional sustainability.”

Dickinson also said the union is at the final stage of responding to an article by the Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa in Business Day earlier this month. In the article Nongxa said Wits is one of the best paying universities in the country.

“The wage settlement being contested is a level well above the consumer price index and is comparable with the best settlements at other universities,” wrote the Vice Chancellor.

Wits Vuvuzela reported earlier this year Dickinson had been warned by Nongxa a charge of disrepute could be brought against him. Dickinson said the agreement reached at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) protects him from disciplinary action.




Wits academics to strike again

There has been no resolution to the dispute between Wits management and unions, and the Academic and Support Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) has announced another one-day strike.

Last minute negotiations between management and the Academic and Support Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) and the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA), to prevent the one-day strike on August 2 failed.

ASAWU members will also boycott admin meetings and performance management from August 20, in addition to the withdrawal of services on August 28.

In a meeting on Tuesday August 14, members were given ballots to vote for additional action, with an indefinite strike being one of their options.

The unions had demanded a signed agreement to their demands, but “chose to walk out of the mediation process before it was concluded”, according to vice chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa. ASAWU President David Dickinson denied this, saying Nongxa was not present at the negotiation sessions.

The unions are demanding a 9% salary increase for support staff and payment to academics at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector.  They also demand the establishment of a childcare facility for Wits employees, an end to overselling of parking permits in non-designated parking areas and access by their auditors to the university’s financial system.

Academic and support staff picket outside the Yale Road entrance to Wits during their initial one-day strike. Photo: Jay Caboz.

Union decries silent treatment

Dickinson said they were met with silence after the strike.

“The first communication of any kind from management is the letter sent out today [August 13] by the vice chancellor to all Wits employees. This message fails to engage with the issues raised by the three unions and their members. It is a slap in the face of Wits lecturers and support staff.”

Nongxa said management did not have a mandate from the Wits council to grant the 9% increase, but proposed a shift from the July-to-June pay cycle to a January-to-December pay cycle. Staff could get a pay rise in January 2013 together with the increase received in July.

Nongxa said the proposals made by management were realistic and asked for “similarly constructive responses” from the unions.

“In the current context of declining state subsidies, the cost of higher-than-average salary increases may have to be carried by already heavily-burdened student fees.”

ASAWU seeking solidarity

ALTSA and NEHAWU are consulting with their members on further action. Dickinson said he hoped they joined ASAWU’s strike and boycotts.

During the previuos strike, Nongxa said the university could not be coerced into meeting the unions’ “unsustainable” demands.

“One would have assumed that, in an environment where we think about these things, that you can come with reasoned solutions to these problems, rather than resorting to a strike.”


Related articles

ASAWU statement on planned strike and boycotts

Wits academic strike (Video)

Rainbow March – Wits academics have had enough

Wits University report on mediation between Wits management and Unions

Rainbow March – Wits academics have had enough

Photos: Jay Caboz

The Wits academic staff union have pressed ahead with their planned strike today, after last-minute negotiations yesterday failed.
Members of the union, ASAWU, have gathered at the entrances to Wits main campus in small groups, holding signs that read “We love Wits, do you?” and “Stop imposing – negotiate.”

Member of ASAWU and Senior lecturer in the School of Mining and Engineering, Carl Beaumont, said,“Our aims for today are to get our message across to Wits University management, that staff have had enough. We’ve had enough of managerialism, we’ve had enough of imposed pay-rises and poor salaries. It’s something that’s been brewing for years, not something that’s just happened in 2012.”


David Dickinson, President of ASAWU (pictured above) said, “People have to stand up for their rights, and more importantly they have to stand up for the good of Wits University. We believe the management is running this university into the ground.”

Management announced a 7.25% increase for academic staff, but the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) have demanded a 9% increase.

ALTSA and NEHAWU, as well as Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), also made non-wage related demands in a memorandum to management.

The three unions demand:

– a 9% salary increase for support staff, to be paid at a higher scale at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector benchmark
– decent salaries to be given before performance regulations were initiated;
– a resolution of the dispute on shift allowances
– an agreement on sliding scales to advance equity
– the establishment of a childcare facility for Wits employees
– an end to overselling of parking permits in non-designated parking areas;
– an increase in individual research incentive

However, Wits vice-Chancellor and principal Prof Loyiso Nongxa says that meeting these demands are complicated, and formal investigations need to be concluded prior to reaching an agreement.

Nongxa said that Wits academics are missing the bigger picture in their fight for better pay and working conditions, in an article he wrote for Business Day last week.

A rally for staff is set to take place on the Library Lawns at 12:00.

Related articles:

School’s out: Wits lecturers on strike

Teacher’s in action over wage disputes

Wits staff protest against management

Wits staff protest against management

Wits academic and support staff unions have planned a rally through Braamfontein on July 19 and a one-day strike next month over long-standing grievances with Wits management.

The three unions jointly declared a dispute after annual wage negotiations faltered last month. Management announced a 7.25% increase for academic staff (Grades 5-9). But the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) have demanded a 9%increase.

They received a certificate of dispute from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which provides legal protection for protest and strike action.

The two unions, along with the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), also made non-wage related demands in a memorandum to management, including a child care facility for Wits employees.

The unions began their protest action with a picket on Jorissen Street outside Senate House in June, coinciding with a scheduled meeting of the Wits Council. About 150 staff members lined the entrance of the basement parking in freezing weather, calling for support as Council officials and members of the public arrived.



Catherine Dryden, a librarian, told Vuvuzela that she has worked at Wits for over 20 years and earns less than R20,000.

“With my experience and my qualifications, I think it’s an absolute disgrace, and I think if I were a member of Council, I would hang my head in shame”, she said.

Deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations, Prof Patrick FitzGerald, said the university provides extensive information about its financial sustainability during negotiations. Last year, ASAWU’s proposed salary increase would have cost the university around R60m to implement.

“Enough is enough”.

According to the unions, this is the third year they have been in dispute with management. Advocate Liz Picarra, an executive committee member of ASAWU, said “enough is enough”.

“We care about this university, we are this university, and unless they start engaging with us, we are actually doing our students and the entire university community a disservice”, she said.

Nomasonto Baloyi, a data administrator at the Wits Arts Museum, said she has not moved to a job that could pay better because of the experience and benefits Wits offers.

ASAWU president David Dickinson asked Sakumzi Macozoma, Wits Council chair, for his views on the picket as he drove in. He responded, “I hope you’ve told them that we’re speaking to you, have you?”

Wits Council chair, Sakumzi Macozoma (left) in conversation with ASAWU president David Dickinson (right).

Wits Communications manager, Shirona Patel, said management may not respond directly to the memorandum, but will continue with talks until next week.

Related articles

Unions reject salary increase

Wits academics plan wage protest – TimesLive

Letter – Academics take stand – BusinessDay


A steep mountain to climb

Wits aims to be ranked within the top 100 universities by 2022 but the university seems to be slipping down the rankings. Only 859 of Wits’ 6340 graduates come from the science faculty. The number of publications from the faculty is increasing but research output measured in publication units is staying about the same. Students are increasing every year but the total number of staff is decreasing.

Science research will play a key role in boosting Wits’ world ranking to within the top 100 by its 100th birthday, but some think it will be a difficult goal to achieve.

Wits has dropped by over 100 positions since 2007 to a rank of 399 according to report compiled for Wits by ranking system “QS”. Another ranking system, Times Higher Education, placed Wits between 251 and 275. In ten years, Wits hopes to be placed in the top 100.

“I think it’s quite an ambitious target … it’s obviously possible because UCT’s going up the rankings, but the reality is that we’re going down the rankings,” said David Dickinson, sociology professor and president of Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu).

According to the Wits 2011/12 Facts & Figures booklet, the total staff in the science faculty dropped from 639 in 2007 to 398 in 2011 and academic staff dropped from 192 to 152. Wits human resources confirmed the drop in overall staff headcount but added that the final figures for 2011 were in fact 438.

Dickinson said if Wits wanted to move higher up in the ranking it must publish and teach more, and produce more postgraduates.

Chemistry professor Helder Marques said he was surprised to hear there was a decrease in staff numbers and that it is a cause for concern. He said staff felt extremely pressurised and had to do a lot more teaching. He also said support staff was not as efficient or well-skilled as they could be.

The Facts & Figures booklet shows that research output has decreased slightly over the last few years. The booklet uses “publication units” (a measure related to how much money is received for each publication) and not the actual number of publications.

Marques, however, said that is not a good measure of research output and called the compilers of that data “damn lazy”. His own analysis showed the actual number of publications had been steadily increasing from 348 in 2007 to 511 last year.

He conceded this measure did not address the quality of the published research. He said a new system of performance management would be introduced into the faculty soon that would set targets for academics which will reflect both the number and quality of publications.

Marques also said that eight schools within the faculty rank within the top 1% of the world when it comes to citations, or how often other people reference their articles.

“We’re pretty good [in terms if impact] for a relatively small university.”

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 18 May 2012