The first-year English course at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus is in disarray, with more than 100 students having failed the first semester exam.
The Witness learned that students and staff alike are laying the blame squarely at the door of lecturer Vincent Mtyende “going rogue”.
But he claims he has valid reasons for not being in class. He is now facing internal staff disciplinary measures, UKZN confirmed yesterday.
The Witness has learnt through interviews with disgruntled staff members and written internal communications that Mtyende allegedly taught for only 20 minutes this entire semester and had then “disappeared”.
The situation was so bad that students submitted a 98-signature petition against him to his superiors.
Mtyende told The Witness this week his absence was due to illness and a death in the family. He also said he passed on his modules to two colleagues who were supposed to teach his classes while he was away.
The debacle resulted in a request by the heads of the humanities department at the Pietermaritzburg campus that all students who failed the course be allowed to write a supplementary exam.
In support of this request, they cited a “lack of co-ordination” of the course as well as the tutorial system having “collapsed”. They asked that even students who would not otherwise qualify to write a supplementary exam be allowed to take this one.
UKZN spokesperson Ashton Stanley Bodrick confirmed that 118 students who qualified for the supplementary exam — those who scored between 40% and 49% for the exam — wrote the supplementary exam on Wednesday. He said a date will be set for another examination, which will allow students who scored a minimum of 30% in their class mark to write.
Of the 357 students enrolled for English 101 at the campus, 325 took the first semester exam and 111 had failed it.
Bodrick said Mtyende is one of four academics teaching English 101, and following complaints about his absenteeism, the decision was taken to exclude the section he teaches from the exam.
Sources alleged that Mtyende has a history of being absent, claiming that he has never been punished for it.
Bodrick confirmed this, adding that allegations against him had previously been withdrawn due to “a lack of supporting evidence”.
“Urgent measures will be taken to ensure that students are not negatively impacted in the second semester,” Bodrick said.
The situation has seemingly caused a rift among staff, amid rumours that veteran lecturer Darryl David even tendered his resignation because of it.
David, who will leave at the end of July to a tertiary institution in the Western Cape, declined to comment.
Mtyende this week told The Witness that he was worried about his safety “because students had been rude to him”.
He said he had handed over his modules to two colleagues to ensure that the course was taught in his absence. He admitted that he had not taught for a sufficient amount of time this semester. He said UKZN students were against him because he is a strict marker, gives them too much work and uses “technical language” during lectures.
Mtyende confirmed that he was aware of the student petition and said he had to write a letter to the university’s human resources division disputing the petition’s claims.
He is currently awaiting a response from HR on that matter, he said. “They [the students] all want to write the [supplementary] exam. I find it absurd and I wrote to a [superior] and asked whether part of our policy is to allow everyone to write … and apparently the dean and the DVC [deputy vice chancellor] of humanities decided all students should write,” he said.
“To me, it seems like they want to annul the main exam, which is against the policy of the university,” he added.
Mtyende said he will return to lecturing next semester. He confirmed he has a history of absenteeism, but only because he was unaware of a persistent illness he has been suffering from for “quite some time”, but which was only diagnosed this year.
Staff felt that the whole debacle has left the department with egg on its face. “... This matter raises serious issues around quality assurance,” one internal e-mail among staff said.
“I shudder to think of the repercussions if this module were to be audited by the [Council for Higher Education or the Department of Higher Education and Training].”
One source told The Witness: “We’re giving students a rotten deal, allowing something like this to happen.”