Candidate for top job upsets old guard

November 17, 1995

British academics are to be asked to adjudicate in a controversy which could spark racial conflict on the campus of the University of the Wi****ersrand.

Thirteen top academics have accused William Makgoba, the deputy vice chancellor, of exaggerating his curriculum vitae, and are seeking to oust him.

The coup attempt is being seen as the first volley in a looming battle for the vice chancellorship of Wits when Robert Charlton retires.

Professor Makgoba, who has the support of black students and some staff, looked very likely to get the job. He joined Wits in October last year from the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, where he was head of molecular endocrinology and deputy head of chemical pathology.

His opponents, who are mostly senior white academics - including eight deans - have made a series of serious complaints against him. They have accused the outspoken professor of misrepresenting his achievements in his cv, of bringing the university into disrepute, and they have questioned his ability to carry out his managerial functions.

The investigation into the deputy vice chancellor's record has been led by Charles van Onselen, who was a member of the team that headhunted and appointed him.

Professor Makgoba struck back, saying that the allegations against him were an orchestrated campaign of vilification and disinformation. He refused to attend a meeting with his accusers, called by Professor Charlton, because he said he had been prejudged.

He also employed Ishmail Ayob, a top lawyer, who has insisted that the allegations be tested under oath and has written to minister of education Sibusiso Bengu, asking whether he approved of the university's resources being used to mount a "vendetta" against Professor Makgoba.

At a meeting of the Wits council executive last week it was decided to appoint an independent tribunal of unquestioned integrity and academic reputation to investigate the allegations. Its members would probably be drawn from outside South Africa. Stephen Anderson, the council chair, would not say which international academics would be approached, but sources told The THES that names mentioned were Sir Colin Campbell, vice chancellor of Nottingham University, Martin Williams of Cambridge, Denis Noble of Oxford, and Lord Flowers.

Trouble between Professor Makgoba and senior academics has been brewing for months, prompted mainly by press criticism that Dr Makgoba has levelled at the university's administration and at the way its transformation programme is proceeding. Certainly Professor Makgoba has not minced his words: one article described Wits's leadership as "a small inbred elite and a junta".

Sources said that senior academics had become frustrated by Professor Charlton's reluctance to take action against his deputy, and believed Professor Makgoba had exacerbated racial tensions at the university. In the last week of October the academics handed a 200-page dossier of accusations to the vice chancellor alleging, among other things, that Professor Makgoba had wrongfully claimed to have been a member of several prestigious scientific and medical societies, and had exaggerated his publication record.

in academic journals and his academic achievements as a student.

Professor Charlton said that since allegations - some supported by letters and other documentary evidence - appeared to warrant inquiry he had decided to convene an on-the-record meeting between Professor Makgoba and his accusers to satisfy himself that the allegations lacked substance. He said that in no way was Professor Makgoba to be "judged" as alleged.

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