Wits resignation

January 10, 2003

The University of the Wi****ersrand regrets that in reporting the resignation of Norma Reid Birley as vice-chancellor ("UK v-c told 'quit Wits' amid row", THES, November 22; "Council forces Wits v-c to resign", THES, December 20/ ), your correspondent did not contact Wits for comment or refer to the joint unanimous statement of council, senate and students' representative council of November 30 2002.

The council disputes and disagrees with Reid Birley's account of events leading to her departure. There were no factions "striking" at her. There was goodwill and support for her through most of her increasingly dysfunctional and divisive tenure as vice-chancellor. Perceived persistent problems in her management of her own office and her failure to unite her executive led to proposals that she embark on team-building and management-training initiatives. These she refused to accept or implement. Such operational suggestions were far from the "disciplinary action" Reid Birley claims was pending against her.

A formal inquiry became necessary only four weeks before Reid Birley's resignation. This was because she reneged on an agreement that she had made with council leadership to have the Wits senior executive team subjected to a confidential assessment and review. First she agreed. Then she disagreed. Then she denied that she had ever agreed. By acting in this way, she left the council with no option but to order an impartial inquiry, led by a former judge, into her conduct.

Reid Birley's decision to resign, shortly after the inquiry was instituted, pre-empted the possibility of formal findings on her managerial competence and her relationship with senior members of her team and council. Contrary to your report, council did not "force" Reid Birley to resign. Nor was she "threatened with dismissal and immediate ejection". She retained some leading labour lawyers. Presumably they convinced her that her odd attempt to gain access to her secretary's computer made her position untenable. Her resignation was followed by a unanimous statement in support of the procedure and the outcome from council, senate and the SRC. Readers who want all of the facts can find them at www.wits.ac.za/jointstatement .

D. K. Swemmer
Acting vice-chancellor and principal
University of Wi****ersrand, SA

   

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