35 top Profs "deeply concerned" at maltreatment of academics at UKZN

Letter from foreign academics to Mac Mia, Chair of Council, and Malegapuru Makgoba, Vice Chancellor

November 24, 2008

Mr. Mac Mia,
Chair of Council of the University of KwaZulu-Natal [[email protected]]


Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba
Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of KwaZulu-Natal [[email protected]]

Dear Colleagues,

We write with respect but also with deep concern for the situation developing around the cases of UKZN academic staff members Chetty and van den Berg. As members of academic staff (faculties) in universities in several countries, we recognize that these two individuals should enjoy the same protections of their academic freedoms as we do, and as faculty should enjoy throughout the world.

Our abilities to promote goals of excellence in teaching, research, and service are based in these protections of our academic freedoms. This applies to the protection of our rights develop our own research and our own teaching, but also the protection of the continuing responsibilities of academic staff for the governance of our institutions: including the preeminent roles of academic staff in the hiring, review, tenuring, and dismissal of our academic peers; and including the protections of our rights and processes to review and criticize the policies of leaders of our institutions.

We also write as colleagues concerned for the present and future of a university for which we have the greatest respect and admiration. A number of us enjoy productive relations with academic units and academic staff, as well as students, of UKZN.

A number of us have helped produce strong working links and exchanges between our institutions and UKZN. Some of us have been involved in training a next generation of academic leaders now holding academic staff positions at UKZN. Some of us are collaborating in research with UZKN researchers. All of us recognize the promise of important leadership and research breakthroughs at UKZN from medicine to history, from producing new histories for a new South Africa to research breakthroughs in HIV research with promise to save millions of lives.

We treasure the success of the university's academic staff and leaders in bringing to success a challenging integration of faculties and facilities and three very different campuses. We recall the extraordinary role that the University had in sustaining the medical training of black South Africans through the oppressive and discriminatory policies of apartheid.

We recognize that many of the leaders of the struggle for liberation and non-racial democracy in South Africa found their political voices while students at the University. A few of us are old enough to remember our struggles as contemporaries outside South Africa creating productive anti-apartheid campaigns for divestment, sanctions, and boycotts, and also toward public education on our university campuses.

Critical to the success of this activism was that we, as academic staff, felt protected in speech and symbolic action to criticize not only apartheid, not only our national governments, but also the leaders of our own institutions less ready, or even opposed, to our efforts to create powerful spaces of opposition on university campuses across the world. Some of us had to fight also for that freedom of expression on our campuses; importantly, at a number of sites the defense of academic freedom and the campaign against apartheid became a common struggle.

We do not wish to review the specific charges brought against Chetty and van den Berg; rather, we are deeply concerned that the adjudication processes set in motion by UKZN's leaders run in the face of globally recognized standards regarding the rights of academic staff to speak and act on policies of their institutions and of higher education in particular and to maintain core responsibility for the review and discipline of academic colleagues.

These standards have been codified in the UNESCO Statement of November 11, 1997: Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (see here).

These standards recognize that the protection of the rights of expression of academic staff is both fundamental to democratic institutions in a democratic society and also essential to success of institutions of higher education. The UNESCO recommendations hold that academic staff:

"...should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights." [para 26].


"... higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say, the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. All higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind and without fear of repression by the state or any other source. Higher-education teaching personnel can effectively do justice to this principle if the environment in which they operate is conducive, which requires a democratic atmosphere; hence the challenge for all of developing a democratic society." [para.27]

We have deep concerns that the processes established by the leadership of the University violate broadly and deeply held standards of governance which give a central responsibility to, and broad freedom for, academic staff in the conduct of academic governance in institutions of higher education. The UNESCO document holds that academic staff have,

"...the right and opportunity, without discrimination of any kind, according to their abilities, to take part in the governing bodies and to criticize the functioning of higher education institutions, including their own, while respecting the right of other sections of the academic community to participate, and they should also have the right to elect a majority of representatives to academic bodies within the higher education institution." [para. 31]

"The principles of collegiality include academic freedom, shared responsibility, the policy of participation of all concerned in internal decision making structures and practices, and the development of consultative mechanisms. Collegial decision-making should encompass decisions regarding the administration and determination of policies of higher education, curricula, research, extension work, the allocation of resources and other related activities, in order to improve academic excellence and quality for the benefit of society at large." [para. 32]

Finally, UNESCO has declared that

"...higher-education teaching personnel should contribute to the public accountability of higher education institutions without, however, forfeiting the degree of institutional autonomy necessary for their work, for their professional freedom and for the advancement of knowledge."

In respect of these standards, and with concern for the future of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the worlds of scientific and humanistic learning and research, we respectfully ask you, first, to reconsider the process you have proposed; second, to restate the University's commitment to academic freedom, including the rights of academic staff to review, criticize, and debate the policies and directions of their institutions; and, third, to reaffirm the University's commitment to standards of university governance consonant with the standards recognized by the UNESCO Statement of November 11 1997.


Kwame Anthony Appiah
Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values
Princeton University

Chris Benner
Associate Professor,
Human and Community Development
University of California, Davis

William Beinart
Rhodes Professor of Race Relations
Department of Politics and International Relations
Professorial Fellow, St. Antony's College
University of Oxford

Stephanie M.H. Camp
Associate Professor of History
Rice University

James T. Campbell
Edgar E. Robinson Professor of History
Stanford University

David William Cohen
Lemuel A. Johnson Collegiate Professor of African Anthropology and History
University of Michigan

Jean Comaroff
Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Professor,
University of Chicago Director,
Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

John Comaroff
Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences
University of Chicago
Frederick Cooper Professor of History New York University

Fernando Coronil
Presidential Professor,
Graduate Center
City University of New York

Donald L. Donham
Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Davis

Paul N. Edwards
Associate Professor of Information
School of Information
University of Michigan

Geoff Eley
Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History
Chair, Department of History
University of Michigan

Gillian Hart
Professor Chair of Undergraduate Major in Development Studies
Department of Geography
University of California, Berkeley

Keith Hart
Professor of Anthropology Emeritus,
Goldsmiths, University of London and
Honorary Research Professor, School of Development Studies, UKZN

Gabrielle Hecht
Department of History and Science, Technology and Society Studies
University of Michigan

Daniel Herwitz
Professor of History of Art, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Comparative Literature, College of LSA, and Professor of Art & Design, School of Art & Design
Director, Institute of the Humanities
University of Michigan

Anthea Patricia Josias
School of Information
University of Michigan

Preben Kaarsholm
Associate Professor of International Development Studies
Roskilde University, Denmark
Ivan Karp National Endowment for the Humanities Professor Center for the Study of Public Scholarship
Emory University

Corinne A. Kratz,
Co-director of the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship and Professor of African Studies & Anthropology
Emory University

Pier M. Larson,

Department of History
The Johns Hopkins University

David Lyon,
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
Queen's Research Chair and Professor of Sociology,
Queen's University, Ontario

Shula Marks
Emeritus Professor
University of London

Regina Morantz-Sanchez
Professor of History
University of Michigan

James Oakes
Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor Ph.D. Program in History
Graduate Center of the City of New York

Tejumola Olaniyan
Louise Durham Mead Professor
Department of English
University of Wisconsin

Derek R. Peterson
Senior Lecturer in African History, and Director of the Centre of African Studies
University of Cambridge.

Lucia Saks
Assistant Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures
University of Michigan

Jonathan Sadowsky
Castele Professor of Medical History History Department Chair
Case Western Reserve University

Scott Spector
Associate Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, History, Judaic Studies, and Asst Research Scientist, Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies
University of Michigan

Dr. Simon Szreter
Faculty of History and St. John's College
University of Cambridge

Lynn M. Thomas,
Associate Professor, History Department
University of Washington, Seattle

Penny M. Von Eschen
Professor of History and Professor of American Culture
University of Michigan

David A. Wallace
Lecturer III
School of Information
University of Michigan

Dr. Christopher Warnes
Faculty of English and African Studies Centre
University of Cambridge

Luise White
Professor, Department of History
University of Florida

Source: National Tertiary Education Staff Union, UKZN