Cape Town - Nearly 30 University of the Western Cape academics have rallied together in support of vice-chancellor Brian O’Connell after students called for his resignation.
The university’s student representative council (SRC) held a meeting last week where it called for the resignation of O’Connell, who announced he would resign last year, and deputy vice-chancellor Ramesh Bharuthram over a number of allegations of irregularities.
These were all subsequently denied or explained by the university.
In response, the group of 29 academics, which included professors, associate professors and doctors, wrote a letter in support of the pair and of the ongoing process to replace O’Connell.
At the SRC meeting, part of a letter written by Saleem Badat, vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, which explained why he had withdrawn, was read out.
In it, Badat explained that he had removed himself from the running for UWC vice-chancellor because the process was “convoluted and unnecessarily lengthy” and “lacking in integrity”.
In the portion not read at the meeting, Badat described UWC as “one of South Africa’s premier universities”.
He added that O’Connell had “made a significant contribution in stabilising UWC following a difficult period and in leading and building UWC academically over the past decade”.
The academics wrote that they believed the university’s management, and O’Connell and Bharuthram in particular, had “acted with integrity in their leadership of the university”.
“Indeed, in the last five years we have seen UWC make giant strides in overcoming its legacy as an apartheid ‘bush college’ and moving forward to becoming a proud standardbearer for excellent and engaged scholarship on the African continent.
“These achievements have been in large part due to the leadership and vision of Prof O’Connell.”
It was in this context that the process to recruit a new vice-chancellor was “of the greatest importance”.
The university was hit by a number of controversies last year, including a special meeting of the convocation in regard to a proposed policy, and when Brian Williams, former chairman of the university’s council and president of the convocation, went to court to challenge his removal.
The academics noted in their letter this week that “a continuation of sectional politics is not in the interests of the university”.
The academics called on O’Connell and Bharuthram to clarify whether they had any role in the appointment of a new vice-chancellor.
They also called for the university’s council to confirm whether they were satisfied the selection process had not been compromised and for the campus community to show support for the pair.
The academics concluded: “And we call upon all those involved in the vice-chancellor’s appointment process to ensure that the integrity of the process remains above reproach.”
The letter was signed by Bernard Martin, Yusuf Oman, Duncan Brown, Michael Davies-Coleman, Zubeida Desai, Benjamin Cousins, Nico Steytler, Alan Christoffels, Andries du Toit, Premesh Lalu, Suren Pillay, Ciraj Rassool, Patricia Hayes, Ernst Conradie, Julian Man, Steward van Wyk, Laurence Piper, Christopher Stroud, Heike Becker, Uma Mesthrie, Tammy Shefer, Ruth Hall, Neil Myburgh, Jan van Bever Donker, Cyril Julie, Heidi Grunebaum, Leslie Witz, Moenieba Isaacs and Wendy Woodward.