• But students applaud the Vice Chancellor “progressive” thrust


The University of Botswana seems divided between students on one side and their support for Vice Chancellor Professor David Norris and academic staff on the other who have petitioned the Minister of Tertiary education, Research, Science and Technology Dr Douglas Letsholathebe against the Vice Chancellor.

Minister Letsholathebe has confirmed receiving a petition from the University of Botswana Staff Union and says he will respond to it after consulting with UB Council before end of this month.

“I can confirm to you that my ministry has received a petition and we are taking it seriously to ensure that no party feels disadvantaged and very soon, hopefully before end of this month, we will have responded,” Minister Letsholathebe said in an interview.

“People should understand that the university is run by the Council and whenever there is an issue, the first people to be consulted are the Council. We will therefore include them in this discussion.”

On the other hand, former presidents of the SRC of UB have issued a collective statement condemning the staff union’s petition.

The former SRC presidents – Kago Mokotedi, Bokang Dumelang, Mpho Molokwane and Oteng Eleck – say they are shocked and dismayed that some sections of the UB academics and their unions have petitioned Minister Letsholathebe to fire the Vice Chancellor,
Professor Norris. “We must categorically state that as former Presidents of the UBSRC, we reject the calls for the Minister of fire the Vice Chancellor,” their statement reads.

“The UB Vice Chancellor has a proven transformational and progressive track record of placing the students at the top of the food chain in matters affecting the university. It must be recalled that Professor Norris came to UB amidst boiling tensions that existed between the then Vice Chancellor Professor Thabo Fako and the student community.”

They say former vice chancellors of UB were allergic to constructive engagement with the SRC and the broader student community on matters affecting the students and learning.

“The suspension and harassment of student leaders at UB by the previous vice chancellors was the norm,” the former student leaders say.

“We can mention by name the previous student leaders who were abused and suspended by the previous vice chancellors. Professor Norris inherited these toxic and hostile relationships between the student community and the university management.”

“Upon resuming duty as Vice Chancellor, Professor Norris constructively and meaningfully engaged with the student leadership to restore a healthy working relationship based on mutual trust, transparency and respect.

“His open-door policy for the student leadership is indeed a jewel in the crown for his illustrious leadership. Professor Norris is more than a Vice Chancellor to the student community; he is a father figure who is always willing and ready to listen the students.

Relations between the students and UB management have significantly improved under the able leadership of Professor Norris.

“We were not surprised that the Post-graduate Student Association of the University of Botswana released a statement in support of Professor Norris. We have also seen a statement from the current president of the UBSRC. Professor Norris is simply a dynamic and transformational vice chancellor who places the students first in the life of the university. This is the reality and we cannot shy away from it.

“We all know that Professor Norris’s tenure as Vice Chancellor was interrupted by the debilitating effects of COVID-19. It is alarming that in the middle of this global pandemic, academics can demand salary increments and call for the firing of the Vice Chancellor.

Trigger-happy they are. Further, the University is not funded from the pockets of Professor Norris “It relies on a subvention from government.

It is for these reasons that we are of the earnest view that the petition from the UB trade unions and their request to the minister to fire Professor Norris is premature, baseless and outright nefarious.

The above notwithstanding, we implore the Vice Chancellor to urgently deal with the concerns raised by the academics and their trade unions. Some of the issues they raise in the petition are legitimate but the call for the minister to fire Professor Norris must be rejected with the contempt it deserves. It is just an unfortunate attention-seeking stunt”

“We call on progressive former and current student leaders and sound-minded academics to reject the anti-Norris cabal and defend him from the unwarranted attacks that he is being subjected to. As former student leaders of the University of Botswana, we respect the right of UB staff to demand better living and working conditions. We however support the exemplary leadership of Professor Norris in rebuilding, transforming and modernising
the university for the benefit of the student community and the country at large. We urge the student community, UB Council, the Minister of Tertiary Education and all stakeholders to support Professor Norris.”