Bitter court battle looms over top UCT post

The black University of Cape Town (UCT) academic community is challenging the appointment of associate Professor Lis Lange to the position of deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning.

Professor Elelwani Ramugondo and the Black Academic Caucus, a collective of academics at UCT, filed joint papers in the Western Cape High Court last month. They are challenging Lange’s appointment, arguing that it was unfair, arbitrary, unreasonable and irrational. Ramugondo is a professor at UCT’s faculty of health sciences.

They have asked the court to review and set it aside; order UCT to readvertise the post; declare UCT’s decision that Ramugondo was unappointable irrational, arbitrary and unreasonable; and declare that six members of council – including outgoing vice-chancellor Max Price – were conflicted and should have been disqualified when council discussed and voted on Lange’s appointment in December last year.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola confirmed that UCT had been formally notified of the legal action.

“UCT believes that, although it is unfortunate, it is within the unsuccessful candidate’s rights to seek legal recourse if they believe that there were irregularities with the process. UCT reiterates that the appointment [of Lange] was a fair, transparent and above-board process.”

Moholola said claims that Lange did not meet equity requirements and other criteria were misleading.

He said the selection committee, senate and council supported and welcomed Lange’s appointment. UCT was confident about its decision and that the legal process would confirm this.

Ramugondo argues that:

. Lange, a white Argentinian who is a permanent resident in South Africa, got the post instead of a black candidate familiar with transformation matters in higher education;

. UCT abandoned the initial recruitment process after Lange withdrew her candidacy. Ramugondo wants to know why the initial process was abandoned and why Lange pulled out of it. She argues that when Lange applied for the post, she claimed in her curriculum vitae that she was a professor, when she was in fact an adjunct professor. Ramugondo says this title has not found full recognition in the country’s mainstream academic community;

. UCT’s Centre for Higher Education Development granted Lange the status of associate professor after she was appointed to the post; and

. Lange lacked the required academic track record and experience in teaching and learning, innovative course and programme design and academic support and development.

Lange was appointed after a second selection process reconvened from July to November last year.

Ramugondo says that during the second selection process, she and four other applicants were shortlisted as A-grade candidates.

In her court papers, Ramugondo questions UCT’s explanation that she and other candidates were not suitable for the position because they “didn’t command respect of deans and other senior academics”. She says it is unclear on what basis this finding was made.

Ramugondo argues that she met the requirements of the post and had played a significant role in advising Price on transformation issues at UCT.

Ramugondo’s submissions include a report about the post, which the selection committee compiled for the senate and which is dated November 24 last year.

In it, committee chair Sipho Pityana states that the committee had agreed to prioritise a black South African candidate. However, he says the committee agreed to widen the pool of applicants, informed by the requirements of the institution, and by the candidates who had applied for similar jobs previously.

He says support for Lange’s appointment was based on her having been a deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at the University of Free State (UFS) for three and a half years and her having done an excellent job there.

Before that, Pityana says Lange headed the Directorate for Institutional Research and Academic Planning at UFS for three years.

In addition, Lange was an executive director for the higher education quality committee at the Council on Higher Education, and occasionally acted as the council’s chief executive officer.

Pityana says Lange came across as a “strong and mature leader, with necessary authority and gravitas to lead a diverse group of faculties and staff”.

“Overall, the committee agreed that she had the necessary skills, competence and experience to lead the transformation of teaching and learning at UCT.

“In addition to her strong referees, she inspired confidence through her direct and thoughtful and sometimes out-of-the-box answers to questions,” Pityana states.

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