NAMIBIA’S foremost academic leader and the founding Vice Chancellor of the Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST), Professor Tjama Tjivukaua, who served the institution through its various evolutions for the more than two decades, terminated his services and dropped a bombshell with accusations of factionalism threatening to rip the prestigious university apart.
In his resignation letter dated 1 March 2019 and addressed to the Chairperson of the NUST Council, Advocate Esi Schimming-Chase, the Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr. Itah Kandjii-Murangi is accused of making the management of NUST impossible. Dr. Kandjii-Murangi was recently involved in an equally stormy relationship between factions of the board and management of the Namibia Institute of Mining And Technology (NIMT) while she also has an acrimonious relationship with some members of the board and management of the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF).
Prof. Tjivikua as an internationally respected leader of an academic institution, made startling revelations in his letter to Advocate Schimming-Chase which in the coming days, will reverberate through Namibian political spheres and the academic fraternity.
The full letter dated 1 March 2019 reads as follows:
Dear Adv. Schimming-Chase
TERMINATION OF MY SERVICE AS VICE-CHANCELLOR (PRO TEM) OF NUST
This letter records the essence of our consultation and agreement reached on 15 February 2019 to terminate my service at NUST as its current Vice-Chancellor (Pro Tem) at the end of March 2019.
This is against the background of my earlier commitment to the Council, based on its requested, to serve as Acting Vice-Chancellor while the search process for the new Vice-Chancellor is underway. This is the basis of the two short-term contracts (October-December 2018, and January – June 2019, respectively).
Our consultation brought to the fore the prevailing noxious circumstances caused by the interferences and malfunctions of government and management of the University. The Minister’s directive demanding that I vacate the position of (Acting) Vice-Chancellor no later than 31 March 2019, “in order to ensure a smooth transition without (my) interference’- real or perceived, is such a circumstance.
Since I had made the commitment to the Council for six months, putting aside my personal and business obligations and commitments, I agreed to the termination of my service at the end of this month, with full remuneration will the end of June in lieu of service.
On the point of ‘smooth transitioning,’ I wish to state that I have not interfered with the search process whatsoever. I only carried out the Council’s instructions early on to prepare the job profile and advertisement, and procure services of the recruitment agency through established procedures. I did not meet any of the candidates before, during or after the interviews. I did not take them on a campus tour, and I did not attend their presentations, interviews and assessments. I also did not attend the special Council or Search Committee meetings to consider or decide on the candidates to be interviewed. Nevertheless, in the best interests of the University, I have wished for a positive outcome.
Consequently, I would like to thank you – personally and as the Chairperson of the Council, and the Namibian nation for the singular opportunity to have served this venerable university for 23,5 years. In any CEOs life, this is indeed a very long time of service in an institution or organisation.
I am deeply thankful for the golden opportunity afforded me. For your selfless dedication to NUST and for your sharp intellect, bottomless wisdom and well balanced guidance, I thank you profusely.
As I leave centre-stage I am cognisant of the heavy responsibilities placed on you to ensure the University’s performance and sustainability, I hope it continues to thrive. Nonetheless, I would like to place on record a few thoughts for your consideration.
A. THE STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY
As for the status of the institution, on of my main goals was to transform it to university, which was achieved some three years ago, against all odds.
I wish to assure you that we have always strived to do everything legally and procedurally possible for the institution, to perform at its best level, thereby emancipating the generations of students, faculty, staff and the nation at large. We have had immense success.
I am confident that NUST is well positioned for the next stage of development, provided by a visionary, competent and engaged Vice-Chancellor, supported by a talent team, as well as competent Council and Minister.
For me, the time at the helm has been a period to learn, grown and implement my vision, chiefly to establish a reputable technological university. I have given the best of my professional life to the Namibian nation, and to the world. I believe I have served the institution – often under very difficult circumstances – with remarkable success. I trust the record will be preserved for posterity.
B. CRITICAL ISSUES AND CONCERNS
I am obliged to raise a few critical issues and concerns that go the foundation, essence and functionality of the University and that speak to its future under the prevailing and deteriorating circumstances, primarily precipitated by the conduct of the Minister and some Council members in the University’s affairs.
1. Firstly, we should be very concerned about the Minister’s involvement and interference in the governance and management of the University. This has clearly happened in various forms since 2015 as would be reflected in my report on her interference in a separate cover.
2. Similarly, we should be concerned about Council/staff relations. A direct link in the line of work between staff members and Council members is highly undesirable and harmful to the University. It is a sure way of undermining the professionalism and authority of Council, as well as the chief executive’s authority and the management process. Indeed, this causes division amongst staff members and it is hugely detrimental to the spirit of collegiality and performance.
3. Council should be deeply concerned about the constant disclosure of personal and confidential matters of the University to the media and to all and sundry. In my opinion, this comes from a certain group of Council members and staff members contravening the codes of conduct and policies, and conceivably from the Ministry. This practice has the potential to destroy relationships and one day, this would cause the university to be sued for breach of confidentiality and harm caused to persons. Its reputation is already on the line.
4. We should be concerned about the conduct of certain Council members who simply dance to the Minister’s tunes, and who neglect to carry out their statutory responsibilities. Some have sided with staff members to the detriment of the University’s management. A case in point is the matter of unresolved grievances and pending disciplinary hearings, which delay was caused by the Minister’s directive to suspend all disciplinary actions against members associated to her during my extended tenure.
5. In a similar way, the Council should be concerned about the Minister’s direct links to staff members. She has issued directives, ultra vires, to the Chairperson and the Vice-Chancellor, to blatantly protect or shield certain staff members and promote her relatives’ interests. This is interference in the institution’s autonomy and demarcation of responsibilities.
6. These acts have corroded the trust amongst the key roleplayers (Minister, Council and Vice-Chancellor) and have empowered or encouraged certain staff members to act with impunity. The non-performing and delinquent staff members have formed a ‘lobby group’ enjoying the Minister’s support. They are now poised to “take over” the University and “purge” ti of those seen with or associated with me. Even students are on notice to carry out certain instructions or “be dealt with” upon my departure. This is the reality on the ground today and I herewith raise the alarm!
7. The culture of non-performance and impunity, being advanced by various interferences, has resulted in the wasteful expenditure of resources. This has sown a very bad atmosphere in the University, with the consequence of detrimental, demoralising and pernicious effects on all other University staff. Already, this practice has promoted mediocrity and has caused the University to lose some of its top performers recently.
8. Finally, the University’s reputation must be protected at any cost from the ongoing onslaught. A university is a very complex system of people, systems, infrastructure, money, networks etc. The succession and transfer of responsibilities to the next Vice-Chancellor must be done in a highly professional, speedy and smooth way to avoid compromising the gains of the past years, the good standards ingrained in the system, and the ethos and driving performance and excellence. This is critical to maintain the confidence and collegial spirit that has brought NUST to where it is today.
9. We should therefore, be worried about the proposed transitional arrangement, which entails rotational actingship and entrusting executives who are not ready or suitable to lead a university at this critical time, perhaps with the exception of one. The impending danger is clear for all to see and the longer it takes to fill the position with a substantive, competent Vice-Chancellor, the bigger the damage.
All the above listed factors have seriously harmed the University and have affected many people negatively; they are the cause of the brewing grief.
For Namibia to achieve global competitiveness, its universities must be free of politics and the personal whims detrimental to the whole. Universities must be leaders in what they do best: developing capacity and systems that will build the economy and society.
I have been very optimistic about the future of the University. But recently, my hope has been dampened by the conduct of the Minister and some council members, and the consequential malfunction and non-performance. The fast and long slide into the abyss has started unless it is arrested immediately. Can it be reversed, and by whom?
Finally, I shall remain committed to the University in any way possible as desired and required. I thank you and the Namibian nation for the exceptional opportunity given me to lead this University, and I wish upon it, and all its constituents and stakeholders the very best.
With my deep respect and admiration, adieu!
Vice-Chancellor (Pro Tem)