Prof Chetty was ‘never banned from talk’

2008-12-09 00:00

FORMER UKZN associate professor Nithaya Chetty has been given the green light to participate in today’s academic freedom seminar hosted by the university’s Centre for Civil Society (CCS) in Durban following denials from the university that it sought to ban him from attending.

Deputy vice chancellor and head of college Professor Pete Zacharias told The Witness yesterday that he has “no idea” how the idea was formed that Chetty faced being “banned” from the campus.

Chetty sought legal representation from the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) law clinic this week following a letter from Zacharias to CCS director Patrick Bond. Zacharias wrote that Chetty’s participation in the seminar would violate Chetty’s “negotiated exit agreement”, which stipulated that he leave the university immediately and restrict visits to “meeting with friends”.

Chetty resigned from UKZN on November 26, just over a week before he was due to face a disciplinary hearing over allegations of bringing the university into disrepute through comments made in the media and on a university listserv.

Zacharias, who was asked to “moderate and approve” a notice advertising the CCS seminar, said that at no point in his communication with Bond did he use the word “banned”.

He said he allowed the notice advertising the event to be posted on the university notice system after two “errors of fact” were rectified.

One of these errors was the contention that the university community “mourns” Chetty’s decision to leave UKZN.

“In fact, only part of the university community mourns his departure,” Zacharias told The Witness.

He said the second error concerned the advert’s description of events leading to Chetty’s resignation as “the country’s most celebrated recent dispute over academic freedom”.

Zacharias said the disciplinary charges facing Chetty and associate professor of mathematics John van den Berg “had nothing explicitly to do with academic freedom”.

Yesterday, vice chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba was quoted in a Durban paper as saying there is no restriction to Chetty’s freedom of expression or participation. “I cannot answer for Prof Zacharias, but I want to make it clear that Prof Chetty is not banned,” he reportedly said.

Makgoba’s comments were confirmed yesterday by UKZN director of employee and labour relations Paul Finden.

Bond yesterday welcomed developments: “We are delighted that, as in any normal university, Prof Nithaya Chetty now has a green light … to express UKZN’s need for more academic freedom.”

Bond added that a speaking invitation had yesterday also been extended to Zacharias.

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