DUT: Wall papering over the cracks won’t work

EDITOR – This most recent wage strike at DUT, blessed by an unholy alliance with the students, was cause of grave concern for us bystanders watching so-called academics, toyi toyi.

This strike action and its consequences needed a deeper analysis. In understanding anything it’s always important to find a defining concept to describe what is being analysed.

An institute of technology (also university of technology, polytechnic university, technikon, and technical university) is a type of university which specialises in engineering, technology and applied science and sometimes natural sciences.

A total of 5 493 students graduated at the Durban University of Technology’s April graduation deremonies (2014). The Faculty of Accounting and Informatics will have a total of 1 217 graduates, 361 under the Applied Sciences Faculty, 570 from the Arts and Design Faculty, 965 from the Engineering and the Built Environment Faculty, 655 from the Health Sciences Faculty and 1725 from the Faculty of Management Sciences.

A quick analysis of the above graduation statistics reflects that these so-called universities of technology are not universities of technology. Just by definition they have failed to meet the basic definition as described above.

One needs this context in trying to understand what went wrong given that prior to 2002 when the ML Sultan Technikon and the Natal Technikon, both creations of apartheid, the former originally was reserved for Indians and the latter for Whites. Both these institutions had a proud heritage, notwithstanding the political context under which they were created.

Both institutions were highly regarded by industry but between 1994 and 2000 the then Minister of Higher Education, Prof Kader Asmal, appointed The Commission for Higher Education, chaired by the respected academic, Prof Jairam Reddy, and the resolution of that Commission led to the mergers of many institutions, inter alia, these two technikons.

It took many years of negotiations with the help of Deloitte and Touche, amid protest and outcry from the community and donors, but in the end the Minister’s order prevailed. The conservatives on both sides objected to the very last day, but the marriage was foisted upon them. Many staff (approximately 300) lost their jobs by opting for a voluntary exit package, and as in forced marriages they had to grudgingly accept there was no way out.

To use the old Italian saying loosely translated “what’s conceived in sin and born out of a loveless relationship, cannot be legitimised” – that said sums up the problems facing this merged institution, which came into this relationship by arrangement with diverse traditions and cultures. It has taken 15 years and seven Vice Chancellors and numerous deputy Vice Chancellors, and it continues to be crisis ridden.

Industry cannot accept that graduates coming out of such a crisis ridden institution can be of the caliber of being worthy employees, when eight weeks of an academic year is lost to protest for a one per cent increase more than was offered by the esteemed Council, which I believe is chaired by Prof Jairam Reddy.

This background is important for contextualisation of the issue. One needs to conduct a laparotomy into the belly of the beast to explore and diagnose the issues – was this crisis orchestrated by those who wish to destabilise the institution and thus unseat the new Vice Chancellor, who I’ve heard is one tough, no nonsense CEO, or is it more sinister than that.

The record breaking seven Vice Chancellors in 15 years has to cause the Minister Of Higher Education serious concern and just wall-papering over the cracks will not be a permanent solution of the crisis.

Sicario
Durban

 

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