South African scientist Malegapuru Makgoba, a critic of his government's stance on HIV-Aids, has been rejected as vice-chancellor of the University of Natal.
A university selection committee sought and shortlisted Professor Makgoba, president of the country's Medical Research Council, for the job. Although he was the sole candidate, he did not get the two-thirds backing needed from the -member committee.
He had agreed to stand as a candidate for the job vacated by Brenda Gourley, now vice-chancellor of Britain's Open University, only when asked to by the committee. "I agreed because I felt honoured to be asked by my alma mater, because Natal is a good university and because I have a great interest in higher education," he told The THES .
He is waiting to be given reasons for the decision, which the university is obliged to do. "Before that, I can't really comment on it."
Professor Makgoba may have become entangled in a dispute between the government and universities that are likely to be involved in a round of mergers.
Education minister Kader Asmal has said he does not want institutions involved in possible mergers to make senior appointments, but Natal advertised the post as a full rather than short-term contract. Natal confirmed that the committee "took note" of similar remarks Mr Asmal made again last week. Mr Asmal is due to release a final report on mergers later this month.
The university council will meet next month to decide whether to continue trying to find a new head or to stick with David Maughan Brown as acting vice-chancellor.
This week, students and some academics said they were "dissatisfied" that the job did not go to Professor Makgoba - who is said to have gained 70 per cent support in a straw poll held to inform the committee. They also accused the committee of bias.
There has been speculation that some committee members opposed Professor Makgoba because of his run-in with 13 (mostly white) academics at the University of the Wi****ersrand amid a vice-chancellor's race in the 1990s. He eventually quit the contest.
Professor Makgoba has often been in trouble for criticising the government's controversial approach to HIV-Aids. The latest attack - by African National Congress election manager Peter Mokaba - was deeply worrying because it followed claims by Professor Makgoba and fellow scientists that they are being pressured not to challenge ANC views.