NO THREAT: An inquiry has cleared the University of KwaZulu-Natal's vice-chancellor, Prof Malegapuru Makgoba, but has recommended that the institution consider the extent of academic freedom at its campuses. Picture: MARK WING

THE University of KwaZulu-Natal has invited staff to comment on how it could implement the findings of a probe into academic freedom at the institution.

Although a committee set up to conduct the probe had cleared the institution's vice-chancellor, Prof Malegapuru Makgoba, and the university itself of posing any threat to academic freedom, it recommended that the university begin dialogue and debate to determine the extent of this freedom and freedom of expression.

The process could result in changes to the way the university deals with academics who speak to the media, as well as the way it conducts disciplinary hearings - two of the areas the seven-member committee appointed by the institution earlier this year found wanting.

After the university has collated all the comments - by a date yet to be announced - the senate would set up a special meeting to "distil" all the commentary so that "subsequent university actions are fully informed, enriched and owned by the whole university community", Makgoba said in a memo to staff.

"We are currently working on guidelines which will deal with (the process of staff commentary)," said the university registrar, Prof Jane Meyerowitz.

The university's action follows two years of repeated criticism, both locally and abroad, of its commitment to academic freedom.

Academics who have criticised the university's management publicly have faced various forms of disciplinary action, and Makgoba has often been at the centre of these dispute because of the way he has reacted to public criticism of his and his management's actions and statements. The National Tertiary Education Staff Union , which has defended some of these academics and made representations to the committee, said it was still discussing the report and the communication that Makgoba had put out to staff last Friday, and would comment later.

Makgoba said the university senate "accepted and fully endorsed" the committee's report and committed itself to "addressing all the findings and recommendations of the ... report in a process that is inclusive and comprehensive".

As a start to the process, internet links to the "academic freedom report" and a report by a committee established by former education minister Naledi Pandor on transformation, social cohesion and discrimination at SA's higher education institutions have been e-mailed with Makgoba's communique to staff with an invitation to make "constructive inputs or comments" on the two reports' findings and recommendations. The two reports were seen to be interlinked, with the ministerial committee report having "profound impacts" on the implementation of the report on academic freedom at the university, Makgoba said.

The report was adopted and fully accepted by the university council at a meeting last month, at which Makgoba was re-appointed for another five-year term.

blaines@bdfm.co.za