Monday, 21 February 2011

The Intrinsic Asymmetry of a Position Taken

All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
T E Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Just to show that I'm not just some sort of Marxian serial oppositional type or part of a fanciful wider campaign that is likely the by-product of paranoia-induced wet-dreams, I'd like to say publicly and for the record that I agree with University of Salford Vice Chancellor Martin Hall. Ignoring for one moment the wholesale cacophony of nasally ralphed Aldi's Fruit 'n' Fibre, my concurrence with Hall is ever so slightly contingent. Clearly some elaboration is necessary.

The meat and two veg of it

I've received in my inbox a recent article penned by Martin Hall which raises some interesting themes such as (but not exclusively) academic freedom, dissent within the Higher Education system and suppression. The article concerns an audit report conducted by the South African Council on Higher Education (CHE) on the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) which has rather lamentably been suppressed by the CHE after a complaint of bias in the report by the University's Vice Chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba. This was alluded to in a previous post on this website.

Hall explains that "[t]he ostensible reason for abandoning the audit was the leak of a letter I wrote to the then chairperson of the HEQC a few weeks after our audit panel finished its work -- the letter was published in The Mercury in January 2009." He argues with considerable justification that the leaking of his letter to the press was not enough on its own to provide the excuse to suppress the Report. The timeline indicates that Hall who chaired the UKZN Audit Panel in October 2008, at the request of Makgoba delivered an oral feedback session on completion of the report that was widely circulated and published online prior to the writing of his letter. It was delivered from a fourteen page summary of the report. Now this sounds oddly familiar.

Culture and Discipline

Some of the findings in the report were critical of UKZN citing a 'culture of hostility' and the use of disciplinary action against staff who raised worries about academic freedom within the University. Hall writes "We had recommended that, rather than taking disciplinary action against staff complaining of violations of academic freedom, UKZN’s council and executive management should take a conciliatory approach." Weeks later, the University decided to instigate disciplinary action against two academics, professors Nithaya Chetty and John van den Berg who were delegated by their colleagues to bring their concerns about the erosion of academic freedom within UKZN to the attention of the university senate. Despite several failed attempts to have their case heard at senate, in discussing the issue with their colleagues was enough for the management of UKZN to instigate disciplinary action citing the old chestnut and catch-all  'bringing the university into disrepute' as grounds for the disciplinary action. For Hall, this was '... a direct affront to the audit panel and to the HEQC.'(see below at 1)

This Martin Hall wants the UKZN report released
Benefits of releasing the report

Hall is clear on what the positive benefits to UKZN would have been if the report had been released in its entirety:

"Were it to have been released, our audit report would have been found to be a thorough and balanced evaluation of one of South Africa's leading universities. It details and commends significant achievements and presents a range of evidence-based recommendations for continuing improvement. The report’s reasoned and evidence-based findings on institutional culture and academic freedom would have helped the university move on from a difficult phase in its history. The Higher Education Act of 1997 seeks to "respect and encourage democracy, academic freedom, freedom of speech and expression, creativity, scholarship and research".

Hall's final sentence is rather apposite considering he has come under recent criticism on his own blog for what are seen by some as attacks on the rights of free speech at University of Salford. Nithaya Chetty and John van den Berg provide a carefully nuanced analysis of the wider trends in HE that have provided the medium for the development of a culture of bureaucratisation underscored by discipline at UKZN:

"The context for this particular scandal is a trend that has engulfed all universities over the past few decades — the bureaucratisation of higher education... [e]lected deans and old-style administrators have long gone. They have been replaced by executives and managers. Some vice-chancellors fancy themselves to be CEOs... [f]ound wanting, they distrust rational debate and decision making. Faced with obstacles, they turn to orders and threats. Beset with problems, they resort to bureaucratic systems. Collegiality is consigned to the dustbin and an industrial labour relations model is imposed. Academics are no longer senior members of their institutions, but employees dictated to by lawyers in industrial relations departments... [b]ureaucracies take on lives of their own. Excessive paperwork, endless inquiries and perpetual organisational change have demoralised and marginalised academic staff. The long February 2006 strike at the university was as much about this as pay. And, above all, bureaucrats dislike public scrutiny, so clamped down on links between academics and the press."(3)

What's sauce for the goose...

Apart from managers at UKZN, few would disagree with the thrust of Chetty and van den Berg's arguments. Writing in the Mail and Guardianon the 28th January Shirley Brooks argues that the recent disciplinary action and the suppression of the full report is indicative of a culture of managerialism which now pervades UKZN:

"The audit panel's chair, professor Martin Hall, has made known his unhappiness with this outcome and argued that by agreeing to gag the report the CHE is complicit in suppressing important information that is legitimately required by the UKZN community and the public... [o]ne aspect of the problem lies, I feel, in the enabling environment created by the increasing hold of managerialism on South African universities. Managerialism provides the space for top management to make use of legalistic processes to stifle dissent within an institution. The individual who is critical of the direction in which the university is going, and attempts to engage others in the institution as well as top management about this, finds him or herself in a parlous position... "(2)

My Dear Dr Argonaut, your request for bona fide information concerning 
the Golden Fleece is deemed both vexatious and silly so shit off

...should be sauce for the gander - shouldn't it?

On Friday 18th of February I received from Head of Information Governance Mr Matthew Stephenson an email. It read:

"Dear Dr Duke, I write in response to your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 received by the University on 21 January 2011. The University considers that this request is vexatious and is therefore not required to provide the information requested in accordance with section 14(1) of the Act..."

This refusal concerns my January FOI request for the Executive Summary of the TCM Group report. Readers of this website will recall that for several months I have been seeking access to this report which was conducted at the behest of the Vice Chancellor Martin Hall into appointments in the Salford Business School. It was instigated by Hall because of anger and concern among staff in the SBS as to the probity of the appointments process within Salford SBS. Having been sacked for raising the issue of a relationship between Head of School John Wilson and then student and part-time member of staff Xiang Li (now a full-time lecturer) in the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters (deemed as bullying and harassment), I am of course keen to ascertain if other staff have raised concerns about this relationship in the report. From notes taken from the Executive Summary and entered as evidence in the recent court hearings into allegations of defamation made against this writer by the University of Salford, it would appear to be the case.

Another report under wraps

Now I can't for the life of me understand why the University would wish to keep this report under wraps. I've applied to the Tribunal for a document disclosure order. These requests have been vigorously contested by the University's lawyers and refused by the Tribunal judge. It's even more odd given Professor Hall's position over the suppression of the UKZN audit report.

Like Hall's oral presentation at UKZN, the TCM summary was delivered by UCU branch president Chris Sheehy to a roomful of UCU and UNISON reps in September 2010. I would argue that it's therefore in the public domain. To suggest otherwise would be to concur with Makgoba's intepretation of Hall's oral delivery of the audit summary where he says that "[o]ur oral feedback was not public but privileged communication...". Is this a view that Professor Hall shares?

This Martin Hall hasn't yet released the full TCM Group 
report into appointments in the Salford Business School
Hall is clear when he states that "The report’s reasoned and evidence-based findings on institutional culture and academic freedom would have helped the university move on from a difficult phase in its history." Could the same not be said for the unexpurgated version of the TCM Group report? Hall is rightly critical of the above suppression yet remains remarkably restrained with regard to the current unreleased status of the TCM report.

I therefore agree wholeheartedly with Hall. The UKZN audit report should be released in its entirety. It's called transparency and its suppression in any modern democracy is a disgrace, more so in a Higher Education  institution that espouses enlightenment values. Yet might an outsider, particularly one with the surname of Makgoba, raise an eyebrow at the non-appearance of  a report directly commissioned by Hall, one that Salford bosses appear to straining every metaphorical sinew to ensure stays firmly under wraps? For the sake of consistency the TCM Group report should be immediately released in its entirety as should the Executive Summary. Failure to do so will only fuel claims that the culture of managerialism highlighted by Chetty and van de Berg at UKZN has gained a foothold at the University of Salford. It would also demonstrate an ongoing and clear commitment to transparency and in Vice Chancellor Hall's own words would "encourage democracy, academic freedom, freedom of speech and expression..."

Related Articles:
(1) "One of the panel's conclusions had been that the university was at risk because of widely held perceptions that academic freedom was in jeopardy. We had recommended that, rather than taking disciplinary action against staff complaining of violations of academic freedom, UKZN’s council and executive management should take a conciliatory approach... Within a few weeks of our making this recommendation known to UKZN's vice-chancellor, the council of the university decided to continue its practice of disciplining senior academic staff who complained about violations of academic freedom. As chairperson of the audit panel I had felt obliged to bring this to the attention of the HEQC."

"We reported that "interviews with cross-sections of staff and students as well as with external stakeholders suggest that there is what has been described as a 'culture of hostility'" and "that some aspects of this situation are expressed as lack of academic freedom at the university". We had "found evidence of stifled debate about institutional matters and of debates conducted in ways which obfuscate rather than elucidate issues". We concluded that "one of UKZN's greatest transformative challenges is to rise above the ingrained, destructive tendencies that are stifling debate and to create a new culture of participative and democratic debate that supports academic freedom in its broader sense". Sourced at

(2) Sourced at
(3) NITHAYA CHETTY and CHRISTOPHER MERRETT: Feudal academy is on the road to suicide, 15th Feb 2011, sourced at

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