The academic staff union at the University of Botswana is considering lifting its moratorium of strike action following a refusal by management to implement longstanding undertakings. These include staff welfare, completion of job profiling and measurement evaluation exercise as well as the remuneration survey by auditing firm Deloitte that was the basis for the suspension of strike action by academic staff in 2010. While Management had earlier promised to look into these issues, it has in recent meetings with representatives of academic staff not been willing to give ground or show flexibility.
A number of senior members of academic staff that The Telegraph talked to were of the opinion that conditions at the University of Botswana have never been worse. They say the current leadership of Vice Chancellor Professor Thabo Fako has miserably squandered the goodwill that was accorded them. “We were excited when Professor Fako was made Vice Chancellor. Because he was coming directly from the classroom we wrongly thought he was one of us,” said one academic who is also a member of the academic staff union. An unprecedented high number of lecturers have in the past few months appeared before management to answer charges related to disciplinary conduct.
They say this amounts to intimidation that on its own goes against the culture of research and academic freedom. Another issue that rankles the academic staff at the University of Botswana has to do with corruption whereby undeserving lecturers are promoted using dubious processes while those that should be promoted are overlooked. Suspension and intimidation have also become preferred instruments of choice at the university. This has resulted in a reign of fear. A leading academic, Professor Happy Siphambe who was serving as the Dean in the Faculty of Social sciences has recently been suspended as has Rolang Majelantle.
Another academic, Mpho Pheko was only reinstated by the High Court. She had been suspended after the university management accused her of submitting a falsified resume of herself. Colleagues look at Professor Siphambe as a candidate for the position of Vice Chancellor when that post becomes vacant in the future. This does not sit well with some in the management who as a result have come up with a litany of trumped up charges to discredit him. Students have not been spared the wrath of management either. Like their lecturers they too are often subjected to intimidation that often culminates with suspensions.
Almost all of the directors at the university are on acting capacities. Some unaccountable lecturers known to be sexually involved with key personalities in management are known to be using their back channel access to power to not only intimidate others but to also get unfair promotions. In at least two instances, members of this cabal failed in their attempts to get professorial appointments only for their associates in management to sidestep the outcomes by ordering that there be identified new external assessors that would look at their cases more generously. Information passed to The Telegraph indicates that this happened at the Departments of English and at that of Education. Because of the collapse of proper channels, issues that would normally be discussed at formal meetings are now discussed at social gatherings. “There is a German woman who is involved with a leading member of Management.
This woman is literally running this university. The second most powerful person on campus would be a Ugandan man who we know is a tenant renting out a house that belongs to the same leading Member of Management,” said a member of academic staff who would not want to be named for fear of crossing the paths of university management. He said this group was responsible for taking key decisions at their informal gatherings. Academics are worried that the net impact of this decayed corporate governance has been low morale among staff, high attrition, mediocrity and general sub-standard of those recruited but also those produced by the system. “Promotions at the University of Botswana are today much more subjective than has ever been the case.
Governance is at its worst. And the university leadership is itself polarised and divided into camps which we now see permeating to the lower levels across the campus,” said a lecturer who has been at the University of Botswana for close to thirty years.