THE University of the Wi****ersrand faces a further year of uncertainty following the surprise resignation last week of its new vice chancellor before he was due to take up the post.
Sam Nolutshungu, a former exile and political scientist offered the vice chancellorship after a long selection process involving public lectures and interviews last year, faxed a letter to the Wits council on January 12 saying he would not take up the post for health reasons.
The campus is highly politicised and running it is a tough job, especially during a time of transformation in South Africa. Furthermore Professor Nolutshungu would have taken the helm without a full executive in place in a year of drastic state cuts to university funding.
Professor Nolutshungu, who is interim director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Rochester, New York, visited the university last year just as cuts in the budgets of white liberal universities were announced. It is believed that there has been hard bargaining between him and the university about his salary.
Morale at Wits, which was high when Professor Nolutshungu's appointment was announced, is sure to plunge with the prospect of another selection process. Campus disruptions are expected following government cuts to institutional budgets as well as to student bursaries and loans.
It is not only the vice chancellor's post that needs to be filled: three vacant deputy vice chancellorships have rendered Wits something of a "headless beast", run by temporary staff.
The deputy vice chancellorships - vacated by William Makgoba after a bitter battle between him and other senior academics, by June Sinclair, who decided not to stand for reelection after losing the leadership battle last year, and by retiring Friedel Sellschop - were awaiting Professor Nolutshungu's arrival to be filled.
The university may ask retiring vice chancellor Robert Charlton to stay on for another term, or it could find a temporary replacement and delay a new selection process for some time. The most likely option appears to be starting the whole selection process again.