Wits search for chief ends with a white

September 12, 1997

The University of the Wi****ersrand has finally found a new leader after a two-year search. Most surprisingly, the next vice chancellor will be that rather endangered of South African species - a white male.

Colin Bundy is vice chancellor designate of Wits following confirmation of his appointment by the university council. The quietly spoken, 52-year-old historian is currently deputy vice chancellor (academic) of the University of the Western Cape.

Bundy's appointment brings stability to an institution that has struggled to find a replacement for vice chancellor Robert Charlton, who will at last be able to retire.

Last year, after a drawn out selection process involving public lectures, televised interviews and political wrangling that split the campus, the university's senior appointments selection committee chose the late Sam Nolutshungu.

Professor Nolutshungu, an exiled political scientist and interim director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Rochester, was a popular choice. His withdrawal from the appointment in January this year, for health reasons, sent shock waves through Wits. He died last month.

A second, protected selection process began, with Professor Bundy and Francis Wilson of the University of Cape Town the only shortlisted candidates.

Professor Bundy, a graduate of Wits and the universities of Natal and Oxford, will begin working alongside Professor Charlton in November and take up his post on January 1. "My role, as much as anything, will be pulling together a team to take Wits into the 21st century," he said.

Professor Bundy appears to have been selected as much for his potential to build bridges between diverse constituencies as for his academic record and experience.

"My sense is that Wits has been through some difficult and complicated years, and may have had its vision turned inwards on these problems," Bundy said.

Pressures range from "the scissors-squeeze of rising student numbers and falling student per capita funding," he said. Declining higher education funding was also significant.

A third challenge for Wits is to adapt to the information explosion and new forms of knowledge production. "There is also the potential for significant curriculum rethinking, which is being visited on universities worldwide. South Africa is no exception."

New national policies were also having their effect. "Wits is already adapting in important ways in response to the new policy environment."

Commenting on the higher education bill before Parliament, he said he was worried about the two main structures it creates: the branch of higher education in the national education department and the proposed Council on Higher Education, a statutory advisory body comprising higher education stakeholders.

"The Council on Higher Education is an entirely new body. There is tremendous anxiety that it should start operating soon. I hope that its composition, which has all the virtues of representivity, does not also carry a penalty of competing interests complicating and delaying decisions."

Finally, said Professor Bundy, Wits will have to relate to changes in metropolitan Johannesburg, where it is located. "The university has an intimate history with sections of Johannesburg. A central challenge will be to define a new relationship with the rapidly changing city."

Professor Bundy said he would be sorry to leave the University of the Western Cape, where he has worked as head of the Institute for Historical Research.

"I've seen the university redefine itself in significant ways, gaining a much sharper political profile and a particular critical intellectual voice at the same time as redefining itself, doubling in size and making significant advances in quality judged in measurable ways such as research outputs and postgraduate student numbers.

"Although the timber often creaked under the pressures, that experience should stand me in good stead at any South African university," he said.

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