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Petion to Dismiss VC

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Petition for the Dismissal of Professor David Norris - Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana (UB)



Dear Honourable Minister Dr Letsholathebe,

We, the University of Botswana Joint Unions;

1.1 University of Botswana Academic Senior Support Staff Union, (UBASSSU), University of Botswana Staff Union (UBSU) and University of Botswana Manual Workers Union desire to submit to you this petition which calls for the dismissal of the Vice Chancellor Professor David Norris.

1.2 When Professor David Norris was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana ahead of more experienced and academically astute applicants, there were concerns about his suitability and competency as his appointment did not go through the University of Botswana selection process as outlined in the University Statutes. He was also viewed as an outsider who didn’t understand the organisational culture and lacked appreciation of its history and core values.

1.3 Nevertheless, the staff and the University community at large gave him a chance and embraced him. There were great expectations that he would address the deteriorating working conditions of the staff. His maiden welcome speech was smooth with many promises that he was indeed the right person to turn things around.

1.4 Even then, not all were convinced. One staff member, in a comment to his speech, responded, “Vice Chancellor, your speech has given us hope. This tempts me to think we have caught a big fish, but I hold my breath for now, until I can see the fish out from the river”.

1.5 These prophetic words of wisdom have come true. Now, hope has been replaced by disillusionment, demoralisation and stress. The pain, agony and frustration of UB staff is open for anyone to see. Yet, the Vice Chancellor seems oblivious to the suffering of staff. His daily narrative dwells on the performance and productivity of staff and the non-availability of funds. He seems unaware of the dire working conditions and welfare of staff.

1.6 His focus appears to be on showing his personal power and imposing ideas on staff without consultation. Further, he seems bound on projecting this positive image of the University to the outside world when, in reality, the university is in a state of decay and dilapidation. To hide this contradiction, the Vice Chancellor leads this university with a divide-and-rule strategy and uses threats and intimidation to create an atmosphere of fear.

1.7 It is against this background that staff have motivated this petition against the Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana, to vacate office before the University sinks into a dark abyss.

1.8 Honourable Minister, the following specific issues have led us to believe that Prof Norris contract should be terminated immediately.

2. Blurred Roadmap

2.1 As the CEO, the Vice Chancellor has failed to provide a clear roadmap to guide a wide range of operations within the University. Prior to Norris’s arrival, UB had developed a strategy using its own scholars, lead by Prof Thapisa and Prof Moahi respectively. They executed the assignment efficiently with intricate insider knowledge of the institution and a global academic outlook. The result of the process was later subjected to external review by consultants, even though the process was later abandoned at huge cost to the University.

2.3 A new, copy-cat strategy was initiated and Richard Neil, another consultant engaged to lead it. Neil was later appointed Director of Institutional Planning on a 5-year contract despite being over 65 years old. His appointment raised a lot of questions within UB as it was contrary to the university conditions of service, whereas many local academics who were still very active in research and service were shown the door as soon as they turned 65, including many productive contract staff whose contracts were unilaterally not renewed, despite renewal recommendations by their departments.

2.4 The strategy was imposed on the staff as there was very little consultation compared to what we had gone through in the previous process lead by Prof Thapisa and Prof Moahi, which as we note above was thrown away with no justification.

2.5 The Vice Chancellor is three years into this post, but he has done nothing to show, and always blames staff or his predecessors for the problems at UB. He relishes grand standing and cheap rhetoric to project a positive image of the university to outsiders while the institution faces monumental challenges. Even the so-called new strategy was imposed on the staff, since Unions were never consulted. Furthermore, staff in Faculties were threatened and bullied into submission whenever they revealed flaws in the strategy. In short, this strategy lacks the critical ‘buy in’ from those charged with implementation, something which is crucial for any new strategy to succeed.

3. Staff Welfare

3.1 Inflationary Adjustments of Salaries

3.1.1 The Vice Chancellor has dismally failed to bring about any meaningful action to ascertain that the remunerations of University staff is adjusted to mitigate the effects of inflation, despite his attention being drawn to the erosion of the buying power of University staff. The University of Botswana staff salaries have not been adjusted for duration of four years, despite numerous attempts by the trade unions (UBASSSU, UBSU and Manual Workers Union) to appeal on behalf of the constituents for his intervention.

3.1.2 The Vice Chancellor does not feel he is duty bound to approach appropriate authorities to request for resources to be availed for better remuneration of UB staff, which has resulted in the erosion of their purchasing power. This failure of leadership has resulted in the demotivation and resignations of some staff members, which in some instances has increased the workload of those remaining in the institution. This attitude has unfortunately resulted not only in the exploitation of UB staff but rendered them virtually helpless and demoralised. Professor Norris’s apparent lack of care and interest in staff welfare is unsurprising. While the University pay policy recognizes internal relativities, this has been disregarded in the VC’s case, as he is paid outside of the UB salary structure and his own recruits from BIUST are paid salaries that are determined outside the established University of Botswana pay structure. This is anomalous and against best management practice. Because he is happy with his salary, he is unconcerned about those who are struggling.

3.2 Security Services and other Welfare Issues

3.2.1 University management seem to have relaxed when it comes to security of the organisation. It has happened several times in recent years that the Management let the contract of private security services that augment the in-house UB security, to lapse before they can float a new tender. This has led to a situation where there is no or poor security in UB during the lead time before procurement of new private security services. This lead time has since widened in recent years. The results of this lack of proactiveness by management led by the VC to secure the security service well in time has put employees and students of the university at risk on several occasions. There have been reports of car breakages, stealing of university property and insecurity of staff and students both in offices, classes and residence halls as results of this management lapse.

3.2.2 A similar scenario, also affecting staff welfare, is the loan schemes that the University gets into on behalf of employees. It has also happened several times that the contract between the Financiers and the University lapses before anything is put in place for employees to continue getting financial assistance. Quite recently, it was communicated by a memo from Staff Welfare and Benefits Office that the loan scheme with FNB is coming to an end on the 30th April 2021 and this communication was made on the 29th, just a day before the end of such contract. This again shows lack of proactiveness on the part of management which is led by the VC. It also demonstrates how staff welfare issues are at the very bottom of the priority list from the perspective of UB management

3.3 Corporate Governance.

3.3.1 The Vice Chancellor is overreaching in UB administrative structures. He chairs the Staff Appointment and Promotion Committee (SAPC), a committee of UB Council. It has come to our attention that there are illegal Pre-SAPC meetings, which are usually attended by Human Resources and Executive Management, where decisions are made on who to appoint, promote or whose contract to renew before the substantive meeting of SAPC. The Vice Chancellor just uses SAPC to rubber stamp the executive decision - this amounts to corruption.

3.3.2 Three years in the institution he has virtually run the university alone. The core and critical Deputy Vice Chancellor posts of Academic Affairs; Finance and Administration; and Student Affairs, have not been filled. Instead he has appointed people on acting positions and he is shuffling them around as he pleases. Those he prefers have been acting for over two years, which is contrary to the Employment Act. Numerous director positions remain unfilled because staff acting in those positions are deliberately not appointed. Colleagues who stay there and for how long all depends on the ‘goodwill’ of Professor Norris. No wonder UB is now mockingly referred to as ‘Hollywood University – Everyone is Acting’.

3.3.3 The institution does not have defined standards for its operations on matters of governance. For example, some staff members have had their applications for promotions intercepted for lengthy periods by their supervisors without any valid reasons. Due to lack of explicit standards on matters of governance, the institution often leaves such disadvantaged staff members with no recourse because the amount of time within which the applications should be processed is not stipulated. This is so because those who should ensure that the University has acceptable operational standards neglect their responsibilities.

3.3.4 As a result there are no provisions that stipulate the length of time it takes from the date when a staff member submits application for promotion, to when he/she receives a response. Even in cases where applicants appealed to the management to act on delayed application, there is no action taken against those supervisors who frustrate other staff members by keeping their application dossiers.

3.3.5 Evidently, lack of communication and transparency has characterised processes such as those pertaining to staff applications for promotion and contract renewals. Staff have to rely on the good will and discretion of those who are supposed to make decisions, such as Heads of Department and Deans of Faculty.

3.3.6 Notably, processes pertaining to staff promotions reveal discrepancies, which compromise institutional standards. For example, there are numerous cases of people who get promoted with the bare minimum requirements because they have friends in high places, and then there are those who over-qualify for the positions they apply for, and they are subjected to horrendous scrutiny just to find excuses to reject their applications. Many such cases have resulted in litigations against the University.

3.3.6 Professor Norris has been implicated in awards of tenders without complying with University procurement tendering procedures from as far back as 2019. While he was said to be under investigation, he was not subjected to a disciplinary hearing, nor did he serve suspension, as it was the case for many of his subordinates.

3.4 Teaching and Learning Resources

3.4.1 The Institution has failed to provide the most basic teaching and learning resources before and during COVID-19. The classrooms and lecture halls are not adequately equipped, as projectors and computers in the same are either not working or are non-existent. The Vice Chancellor has not communicated with staff regarding this deteriorating state of institutional equipment, except to instruct that staff members should spend their personal financial resources to buy laptops to do University work. It is appalling that Professor Norris treats this matter with a condescending attitude, while he preaches excellence and parades the university in his branding frenzy as a “leader in tertiary education and No 1 University”. In fact, UB lags behind other universities in the country. In most local universities staff and students are provided with free laptops and tablets. At UB, students were provided with data at a great cost and yet the system dismally failed to alleviate the problem. This was one of the many examples that show that VC is incapable to make sound decisions.

3.4.2 As an institute of higher learning, provision, maintenance and availability of instrumentation should be a high priority as it contributes to the growth of academics. Lack of functioning scientific instruments is a huge problem, especially in Faculties that rely on instruments to carry out their teaching and research, such as the Faculty of Science. Some instruments broke down and never got repaired for years, until they become obsolete. Crucial instruments, that previously had attracted researchers from all over the continent to UB, broke down and have not been replaced. CAPRAS requires academic staff to publish, attract research funds and generate third stream income - all of these are impossible without functioning instruments. The research performance has a direct bearing on the progression of the academic staff and without functioning instruments, staff often find themselves stagnant in one position, frustrated and depressed. There are instances where staff members have been trained as scientists in a specialized instrumentation only to come back to an instrument that does not work resulting in such member of staff being redeployed to do work they did not apply for. It is frustrating, as an academic, to find oneself in a situation where one is failing to show students how instruments work and even more frustrating to fail to produce academically, competent graduates who can operate the most basic instrumentation at workplaces. The feedback we get from industries regarding our graduates is depressing - UB produces incompetent graduates.

3.4.3 In some Departments, graduate students take extremely long to graduate due to lack of instrumentation. For a University that strives for excellence, how would it attract excelling students, growing and competing at international level with no functioning instruments?

3.5 Deteriorating Infrastructure

3.5.1 The University grounds are in a deplorable state, with over-hanging trees and dirty pathways, and this affects the confidence and quality of life of the University community. Staff members and students are frustrated with the dilapidated state of the institution.

3.5.2 We noted that recently, somewhat over-dimensional and expensive steel coverings at UB entrance gates have been erected. It was not communicated which purposes they serve, nor on what basis they were prioritised in a situation, where we are constantly told that the University does not have funds.

3.5.3 The Maintenance Department at UB continues to experience artificial shortages of materials and equipment to conduct routine maintenance of facilities. To this end, there are many employees who cannot carry out their work because they do not have tools and parts to replace the worn-out parts. This situation has caused a lot of frustration to the workers who also feel underutilised and now fear that they may be declared redundant despite the human resource investment that the University had on some of them.

3.6 Managerial Dictatorship and Staff Victimization

3.6.1 The University of Botswana’s Vice Chancellor has demonstrated an autocratic leadership, characterised by wanton disregard for academic freedom. This has often resulted in staff members getting lengthy suspensions from work without any reason proffered. In some instances, suspensions have ended up with reinstatement of such victims without been subjected to due processes, such as disciplinary hearings. This suggests that the leadership does not observe principles of good corporate governance and disregards for the rights of workers. The fact that suspended staff are reinstated without any punitive action against them means that they were unlawfully suspended in the first place. This behaviour constitutes victimisation of staff and a waste of University resources, as such staff members continue to receive their salaries during the suspension period when they are not productive. Mo, ke tshenyetso Sechaba. We are also aware of a former senior staff whom the University had to settle with an out-of-court agreement and paid huge amounts for wrongful dismissal. There have been many such payments made to others, again reflecting the poor judgement on the part of VC. The appointment of staff members to act in positions of suspended colleagues results in them receiving allowances. This is an indefensible waste of the already meagre institutional resources, which does not seem to bother the VC.

3.6.2 The suspensions have also caused staff members to feel apprehensive, because they are subjected to a toxic work environment, which is psychologically damaging. The institution has lost some staff members through resignations and early retirements, which has increased workload of those staff members who remain ensnared in the unsympathetic and exploitative institution.

3.7 Litigations

3.7.1 The institution has experienced copious litigations before the courts, on matters that could have been resolved administratively and internally, if it were not for the obdurate and arrogant behaviour of UB management. This does not only tarnish the image of the institution, it makes the relationship between the staff and the management devoid of industriousness. It also makes the institution unattractive to potential students and employees. The litigations involving the University are expensive and time consuming. It is important for the institution to have leaders that possess the best managerial strategies that motivate staff. This quality can be achieved through resolving disputes through internal procedures and to act in good faith.

3.8 Appointment of Staff without Following Due Processes

3.8.1 There are instances where the VC recruited people into the institution without following due processes of recruitment that are supposed to be characterised by transparency and fairness. As alluded to, we cite two cases involving post retirement 5-year contracts given simply based on their relationship with the VC. One is known to have worked with him at BIUST, while the other was appointed despite advice given that he did not qualify for the post. This conduct has led to the demotivation of staff members who feel denied the opportunity to compete fairly for positions. Lately, many appointments across the University have been made by VC, who is bent on encouraging cronyism and sycophancy by willy-nilly violating UB conditions of service pertaining to promotions.

3.9 Poor Staff Morale

3.9.1 Since VC assumed office the morale of staff has degenerated to an all-time low. This is mainly because UB falls behind comparable institutions in terms of salaries and more importantly, the non-payment of salary arrears for adjustments of annual salary adjustments over the years. The situation has not been helped by the new policy called CAPRAS, which was unilaterally imposed by the Norris administration. This policy profoundly changed the staff conditions of service by expanding their scope and work and setting unreasonably high-performance standards against deteriorating work environments. Consequently, it makes it a tall order for staff to get promoted. As a result, staff who have been trained by the University of Botswana at substantial costs to the country at master’s and doctorate levels are leaving the university with some joining private universities as professors. Even more distracting for staff is the deliberate non-renewal of contracts, sluggish recruitment processes and freezing of posts, which all pile more workload on the remaining staff. Instead of addressing staff concerns, Prof Norris chooses to suppress grievances and targets anyone who speaks out against the prevailing morass.

3.10 Poor Communication

3.10.1 The Vice Chancellor does not communicate with staff as would be expected from a person who is at the helm of the institution. There are issues that affect operations of the university and welfare of staff which he does not communicate to staff. The Unions have sought explanations on what the nature of the recent additional payment earlier this year was, and how it was calculated. We never got a response. Further, the VC has until now not responded to the Union’s request on representation on the pension board. He is quick at making promises and then fails to implement to provide feedback to staff. An important case in point is his promise to the Unions that he will engage the Minister on outstanding salary arrears to UB staff. Again, the Unions have not received any feed-back, giving the Unions no other choice than to assume that he never engaged the Ministry.

3.10.2 Lately, he has transferred all UB secretaries without consulting the Heads of Departments. This has caused confusion, as no handover was prepared and consequently no handover was done. This culture of lack of communication also extends to grounds work, as staff sometimes suddenly see the gates closed and are turned away without prior communication.

3.10.3 The effective use of communication channels and transparency is an imperative of good governance. Even on this basic feature, the VC has failed.

4. Conclusion

4.1 Honourable Minister, as UB workers, we feel that Professor Norris has dismally failed to fulfil his mandate as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana, with which he was to lead the University to higher levels and achieve its glorious vision to be Centre of Excellence and a Leader in Tertiary Education. It is common knowledge that excellence comes from the people who work and perform duties. Without motivation it is unreasonable to expect excellence. The staff members need to be motivated, and this can only be achieved if employees develop a strong sense of identity with their institution and if their welfare is prioritised. Staff have waited for over three years expecting real change in their conditions of work, but to no avail. The state of the University, in terms of human resources, infrastructure and quality of education has deteriorated remarkably under Professor Norris’s regime. Clearly, he must go because he lacks legitimacy and is not sensitive to the concerns of staff. Professor Norris’ conflation of management with leadership has led him to micro-manage the institution and derail from providing visionary leadership, which he was appointed to provide. He does not have the qualities of selflessness and commitment to lead and provide inspiration to staff.

4.2 Honourable Minister, as we conclude, we want to draw your attention to the basic tenets of UB as encapsulated in its values, which are professionalism, equity, accountability, innovation and Botho and would like to unequivocally state that Professor Norris in his leadership does not measure up to any of those. The value of Botho, which is a cornerstone of our nation, is one which Professor Norris treats with disdain when dealing with members of staff.

4.3 We are aware that Prof Norris, as we submit this petition might resort to his vindictive practices and victimise some of our members, especially those in leadership, who are simply voicing out the aspirations and frustrations of the general membership of the three UB Unions. It is in this respect Honourable Minister that that we appeal to you to protect the rights of the workers.

We append signatures of the members of three Unions.

Motsomi Ndala Marobela

President, University of Botswana Academic Senior Support Staff Union, (UBASSSU)

Ghadzani Mhotsha

President, University of Botswana Staff Union (UBSU)

Oneile Mpulubusi

For President, University of Botswana Manual Workers Union

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