Wits academics concerned by lack of leadership by varsity management

2015-10-21 16:55
(Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

(Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

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Johannesburg - A group of "concerned academics at Wits" say there has been a lack of leadership by the university's management during protests over fee increases.

In a statement on the protests, the 55 academics outlined what had happened at the university over the last few days and lauded the students who showed "strong leadership" throughout.

"There was insufficient communication from Wits management regarding the assembly, including conflicting information about the venue and notices regarding the closure of the university on Monday," the group said in the statement.

Read the full statement here

This was after the Witwatersrand University management cancelled an assembly organised with students to discuss the tuition fee hike.

The Wits council on Monday said it would not address protesting students because they had gone against the "spirit" of an agreement reached with the institution on Saturday.

This was after students stormed Senate House.

The university on Wednesday said it had noted the statement and the academics were entitled to their opinion, but there were many who had alternative views

"In a poll of Senate undertaken last week, the vast majority voted in favour of the university taking a much harder stance against the protesting students [114 in favour of and 12 against], indicating that there are different perspectives on this matter," the Wits senior executive team said in a statement.

"We have had similar requests from members of the professional, support and administrative staff and from parents wanting the university to respond in a harsher manner to this matter."

The group of academics said the university changed the venue at late notice due to health and safety regulations, but did not communicate this effectively with students.

There was also no clear planning, a lack of sufficient medical personnel on campus, a lack of water despite the heat, and no marshals to manage the crowd.

"The ways in which council’s decision not to attend the assembly was communicated to staff and students were extremely problematic.

"Knowing full well that students were assembled in person, decisions were made to communicate only through social media rather than through a representative of council or management. This deeply alienated the assembled students," the group said.

They called on Wits management to show engaged, informed and principled leadership and work to resolve the conflict relating to the fees.

'Management communicated clearly'

However, the Wits executive said there were several inaccuracies in the letter drafted by the concerned group of academics.

It said the agreement reached on Saturday was that council would report on its deliberations to students, which was not a general assembly.

The dean of students communicated that the venue would be the Piazza outside the Great Hall and student leadership was informed and notices put up around campus. 

The notices were later removed by protesting students, Wits added.

"The council statement was sent to students and staff at the same time and was posted to the university’s website and via social media. 

"We believe that management communicated clearly and timeously in all respects."

It said Wits management had spent eight days trying to engage with students.

"The executive has kept the doors of engagement open to student leaders and we hope that they will come to the negotiation table sooner rather than later."

Wits has suspended all academic activities until next week Monday.

Read more on:    wits university  |  johannesburg  |  university fees

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