Academics critical of Wits in a survey

WITS university management have welcomed the recent survey featuring academic staff concerns of governance and salaries at the university.

The survey titled Whither Wits? was commissioned by the Academic Staff Association at Wits University (Asawu) and features 400 academic staff who voiced their grievances in their line of work.

 “Asawu felt that it was time to get a sense of how academics perceive the institution and how they feel in relation to the university affecting academic life, especially with new management, “ acting vice president Fiona Horne told Wits Vuvuzela.

Asawu last commissioned a survey to gauge academic staff perceptions of the university in 2010.

Since then Horne said there have been a lot of critical issues affecting the university and widespread dissatisfaction amongst academics.

Issues raised in the survey

The number one widespread dissatisfaction among academic staff is salaries.

“Few people are happy with salary levels, which received a satisfaction rating of only 5.1%, while satisfaction rating for individual’s own position on the salary scale was 8.7%,” the report read.

The academics also took a swipe at the poor communication process with management regarding salaries at Wits.

The union representing Wits academic staff proposes that the university should use the bench-marking system, where salaries are compared with those offered at other universities.

Horne added: “If you are a lecturer you must be paid as a lecturer and not a tutor.”

[pullquote]It’s spot on [on] some of the issues of service delivery. We are on to those issues of service delivery. Some of the issues raised in the survey are historical issues. Some are quite regular issues that were raised by the survey[/pullquote]The university is generally not well governed, that is according to academics in the survey.

“This issue received a dissatisfaction rating of 64.6% of the sample with comments focusing on management’s distance from and inability to hear both staff and student concerns,” the report said.

Wits management responds

Deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations Prof Tawana Kupe confirmed receiving the report and told Wits Vuvuzela that by the time the survey was released the university had already started to address the issues raised.

“It’s spot on [on] some of the issues of service delivery. We are onto those issues of service delivery. Some of the issues raised in the survey are historical issues. Some are quite regular issues that were raised by the survey,” said Kupe.

He also said the issues identified in the survey are justified.

Horne said Asawu has the confidence in the new management, led by incoming vice chancellor Prof Adam Habib (@AdHabb), but cautioned that some issues affecting academic staff are not simple to address.

More issues plaguing academics

Another point of contention at Wits according to Horne is medical aid contribution.

She added: “Over 60% of staff are on maximum contribution.  The vice chancellor and tutors are paying the exact amount of medical aid.  It’s unfair, and it’s a huge chunk of their salary.”

Horne said another big issue academics are faced with is the workload, as they have to cope with teaching large class sizes and the pressure to do research.

“Demands are made on us. People are feeling tired and frustrated,” she said.

Alleged unfilled vacancies

Earlier this year Wits Vuvuzela reported that the academic union was concerned with unfilled vacancies at the university, which management denied that this was the case.  The union also alleged that the number of unfilled vacancies has cost the university “R 100-million”.

“Certain departments are definitely under-staffed. That’s the trend in all universities, especially with the incoming vice chancellor’s [plans] to make it [Wits] a research intensive university.  It’s all fine but, when academics are not getting the support they need, they’ve got huge workloads, it puts them in stressful conditions, “she said.

Kupe said the university has a policy of having a three month window period to replace staff members who have vacated their positions.

Other conditions of service raised in the survey are the lack of parking spaces on campus, the need for child care facilities and academic leave taken by teaching commitments.

Despite the issues raised by Asawu, Horne said academics are proud to be working at the institution.