Drama over University of the Western Cape decision to terminate vice-chancellor recruitment process
The UWC senate is unhappy about the cancellation of the institution’s vice-chancellor recruitment drive. The process is to be restarted from scratch.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) senate has asked for a special meeting with council leadership following the cancellation of the process to recruit a rector and vice-chancellor.
Daily Maverick has learnt that the request, signed by 102 senior academics at UWC, was sent to registrar Dr Nita Lawton-Misra on Monday, 30 October.
In part, they said council leaders would have to explain their reasons for the cancellation of the recruitment process.
Lawton-Misra indicated that the matter will be discussed at a special senate meeting on 2 November.
UWC’s Prof Alan Christoffels said that, much like his colleagues, he was in the dark about the council’s decision to cancel the appointment process.
The institution is looking for a new vice-chancellor because Prof Tyrone Brian Pretorius’ term is coming to an end in December 2024.
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The three shortlisted candidates for the post were professors Vivienne Lawack, José Frantz and Robert Balfour.
The three academics made their presentations – as part of the interview process – at UWC’s Jakes Gerwel Hall on 2 October 2023. The session was chaired by Judge Nathan Erasmus, chairperson of the Senior Appointments Selection Committee of Council (SACC). The interviews were held the following day.
Christoffels was reacting after Lawton-Misra issued a statement to the university community indicating that a special council meeting was convened on 26 October to consider the report and recommendation of the SACC on the appointment of a rector and vice-chancellor.
Lawton-Misra stated that the council considered the reports from the Institutional Forum and senate, with written submissions to council by certain university stakeholders.
“Concerns were raised on certain aspects of the process and deliberated extensively by council. After its deliberations, the council decided not to accept the SACC report, and resolved that the recruitment process should recommence in its entirety,” Lawton-Misra wrote.
She stated that council wished to emphasise that the decision was in no way a reflection of the stature and candidature of any of the current candidates, who were invited to reapply when the position was re-advertised.
Lawack is UWC’s deputy vice-chancellor: Academic, who earned her law degree at Nelson Mandela University in the 1990s and was admitted as an advocate of the high court in 1995.
Daily Maverick understands that the senate recommended Lawack for the post of vice-chancellor.
‘We need reasons’
Christoffels said he would like to know how council came to its decision, given the clear UWC statutes surrounding the process of selecting a vice-chancellor.
He said various UWC stakeholder forums submitted their recommendations, and it was council’s job to make a decision based on the recommendations.
The statutes, he said, made provision for one of the UWC stakeholder forums to indicate that the process had to be restarted from scratch.
“It would be good to understand what information led the council to opt to restart the selection process. Did they get a recommendation from the Institutional Forum, senate or the selection committee? We can rule out senate because there was no request from senate to restart the process,” Christoffels said.
“It is demoralising for staff to be faced with such chaos for a process that has been going on for months and is now potentially going into 2024,” he said.
UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said Lawton-Misra’s statement presented the outcome but not the basis of the council’s decision.
Abarder said her statement made references to “extensive deliberations” but did not elaborate on what those deliberations entailed.
“Our senate meets on Thursday [2 November] and the two senate representatives on council, and other members of council who are also members of senate, will certainly engage on the content of the deliberations and the rationale for the decision,” Abarder said.
As council consists of mainly individuals external to the university and is chaired by an external council member, Abarder said the university management could not speak on behalf of council and directed questions to Lawton-Misrar, who also acts as the secretary of council.
Lawton-Misra said on Monday she had nothing to add to Abarder’s responses.
Abarder said the delay in the appointment of Pretorius’ successor would not affect the operations of the university. DM