Saturday, October 23, 2021

UB burned when Vice Chancellor was away

The very problem that the University of Botswana Council wanted to prevent by reappointing Professor Thabo Fako as Vice Chancellor in 2015 occurred in the week that students went on strike.

In terms of UB regulations, office holders who want their contracts extended must so indicate six months before such contracts expire. Fako didn’t do so and it was expected that he would step down when his term expired last year. Then Minister of Education, Unity Dow, had herself publicly stated that Fako had indicated that he wouldn’t exercise his option to renew his contract. However, circumstances conspired to bring Fako back, much to the consternation of some staff members who had been anxiously looking forward to regime change.

There was a complication. If Fako stepped down, a group of people completely new to executive management would have taken over the reins of power. When UB re-opened last January this year, Professor Martin Mokgwathi replaced Professor Lydia Nyati-Saleshando as Deputy Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. Already, Mendel Nlanda had been appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration, replacing Dawid Katzke who had taken up the same post at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). After serving for 10 years, the contracts of both Nyati-Saleshando and Katzke could not be renewed in line with UB regulations. While he was still in post, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo, was said to have been shortlisted for the post of BIUST Vice Chancellor and was the favourite. With Totolo at BIUST, Fako out as VC, the new executive management would have been made up of entirely new faces, a situation that the ministry viewed as being far from ideal. This prompted the decision to renew Fako’s contract.

However, the nightmare scenario that the ministry had tried to prevent did happen and in an odd sort of way. A fortnight ago, UB students went on strike with Fako away on sick leave. Having worked at UB for as long as they have, all Deputy Vice Chancellors have experienced a student strike. However, none amongst them has had to respond to such situation as an executive manager who has to make weighty decisions. Worse still, the Council Chairman, Parks Tafa, was away in South Africa and the DVCs had to consult with him by phone. Having assumed such position in 2013, Tafa himself has no experience of dealing with what one can call a real student strike, the last of which happened under Fako’s predecessor, Professor Bojosi Otlhogile.

Fako is not popular with some at UB but the strike week was when even his detractors would have wished he was around. He has served as DVC under two VCs: Professors Thomas Tlou and Sharon Siverts. With no institutional memory to rely on, missteps on the part of those quarterbacking the recent crisis response could have compounded an already volatile situation.

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