The Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana (UB), Professor David Norris, says he has achieved considerable transformation in the three years of being in charge at the institution of higher learning and is therefore unfazed by attempts to oust him.
But Professor Norris has recently come under great fire from UB unions that say he has failed as VC. Norris holds that those who want him out do not want to align with his transformation agenda that he preached since joining the university. He expressed at the petitioners’ sentiments that he is an outsider. “They say I am an outsider and didn’t grow within the UB system,” he told this publication.
Asked about the real reasons for the petition, Prof Norris said it is spearheaded by new union leaders who just came into office. “I have met the unions twice already,” he said. “I explained everything to them. But because the issues are not really about salaries and all the other things they raised, they chose to go the petition way. I have clearly explained the salary issues and they know very well that even the 7 percent salary increment they received was because of my hard work in instilling financial discipline and prudence in the Institution.”
He is hated, he said, for calling for excellence at the Institution of higher learning. “The gripe of the union leaders revolves around mediocrity and merit in a culture of poor performance,” he added.
He pronounced himself as one committed to the transformation of UB into a research centre while the union leaders are apparently not ready for the necessary transition. “My focus is making the University of Botswana relevant to society,” he said. “The union leadership deliberately came up with this petition for the sole purpose of trying to derail the university’s transformation into a research intensive institution. Knowing they can’t operate in a research intensive environment, their plan is to create hurdles.”
In mid-June, a joint statement released by the three unions, namely the University of Botswana Academic Senior Support Staff Union (UBASSSU), the University of Botswana Staff Union (UBSU), and University of Botswana Manual Workers Union, made a litany of accusations against the Vice Chancellor of “Mmadikolo” and called for his sacking.
According to the statement, Professor Norris was given the benefit of the doubt upon his appointment as he did not go through the normal UB processes for appointment as Vice Chancellor. Norris was headhunted by then Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr. Alfred Madigele, towards the end of 2017. The petition says since then he has not accorded staff welfare issues the necessary attention and rules with an iron fist.
“Further, he seems bent 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,” the petition charges. “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.”
In addition, the petitioners say Prof Norris has a blurred road map that has failed to guide his strategy. The petitioners also complain about remuneration. “The Vice Chancellor has dismally failed to bring about any meaningful action to ascertain that the remunerations of university staff are adjusted to mitigate the effects of inflation, despite his attention being drawn to the erosion of the buying power of university staff,” they wrote in their petition. “The University of Botswana staff salaries have not been adjusted for 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.”
They also accuse Professor Norris of being a dictator. The petition is now before the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr. Douglas Letsholathebe.