More protest at UKZN clampdown

2008-11-12 00:00

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) yesterday added its voice to growing concerns over the curbing of freedoms at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and other South African institutions.

In reference to the disciplinary action facing two Pietermaritzburg associate professors, John van den Berg (Mathematics) and Nithaya Chetty (Physics), Sanef expressed concern at “the growing cult among institutions to try to curb freedom of expression by instituting disciplinary action against employees for criticising conditions at those institutions”.

Some of the consequences of such actions, said Sanef, was an “unacceptable drying up of sources of information” and an “undesirable increase” in reliance on confidential sources.

The two UKZN academics are facing misconduct charges, which could cost them their jobs, for criticising university vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba over his handling of a faculty submission on academic freedom to the senate. The academics’ comments were aired in reports carried by several newspapers, including the Mail & Guardian and The Witness, and on a university online discussion forum.

“Sanef has no intention of interfering in the issue which is the subject of the disciplinary hearings, but is deeply concerned about the effects of such disciplinary proceedings on media freedom and of access to, and the dissemination of, information about conduct in public institutions which is in the public interest,” the statement said.

In yesterday’s statement, Sanef drew attention to a recent report on institutional autonomy and academic freedom produced by the Council on Higher Education task team which notes that higher education institutions should “protect the freedom of expression of academics … from undue sanction by their own institution” and the duties of senates to “uphold the right of individual academics to freedom of expression and freedom of scientific research”.

In a statement issued yesterday, the University of KwaZulu-Natal said it will not communicate with the media on issues related to the disciplinary hearing whilst it had not been concluded.

“It has become necessary for the University to request that Professors Van den Berg and Chetty, and their representative Professor Rycroft, respect the University’s disciplinary processes.

“Respecting the process will include that they and the University refrain from discussing or debating the merits of the disciplinary action in any public forum, faculty meeting, meeting with other members of staff, and from communicating with the Press during the disciplinary hearing process,” the University said.

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