Freedom seminar: Chetty raises his concerns

2008-12-10 00:00

MEMBERS of the academic community came out in force yesterday in Durban to hear former University of KwaZulu-Natal professor Nithaya Chetty on the subject of academic freedom and state his view that it is time for UKZN vice chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba to move on.

Professor Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), which hosted the seminar entitled “Freedom of Expression and the Responsibility of the Intellectual”, said a new venue had to be found to accommodate close to 200 people who attended.

Chetty, who answered unrehearsed questions put to him by professor of education Robert Morrell, said that since the merger between the former universities of Natal and Durban-Westville has to all intents and purposes been completed, it is time for Makgoba to go.

“He accomplished what he set out to do. I don’t say this with disrespect, but I think he should find a graceful way to exit. It’s important now to get new ideas,” he told The Witness after the seminar.

Makgoba served on the national working group appointed by the Education minister in 2001 to make recommendations on the restructuring of higher education before he was appointed as vice chancellor of the former University of Natal in 2002.

Chetty said Makgoba chose a “strong-arm approach” to addressing issues around the merger.

“Some say that was necessary, although I disagree.

“But to the extent that the merger is now achieved, we should return to the fundamentals of the university, which is the building of a community of scholars … critically engaged in all matters of society.”

Other concerns raised by Chetty included the fact that the university council has “enormous” powers vested in it, but is not in a position to discharge its responsibilities adequately because it is made up largely of people from outside the university. Combined with a dysfunctional senate, he said, there is the potential for situations to be manipulated.

Chetty said all voices in the institution are legitimate and it is important to steer away from the “racist discourse” that crept into the transformation agenda. He said “visionary and compassionate leadership” is needed in order to build bridges.

The CCS’s Bond said that in his view “the full range of ideologies and traditions” were represented at the seminar, ranging from liberalism and progressive non-racialism to black Africanism and managerialism.

“Everyone had their say and was able to raise concerns.”

Chetty, a physicist who was based at the Pietermaritzburg campus, resigned from the university on November 26, days before he and former colleague, mathematics professor John van den Berg were due to face disciplinary action for public criticisms of Makgoba’s handling at senate of a faculty submission on academic freedom. Van den Berg signed a settlement agreement with the university.

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