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Letter from the Rhodes University Academic Freedom Committee

Sent: 18 November 2008

The Academic Freedom Committee would like to express its profound concern that the University of
KwaZulu-Natal is proceeding with disciplinary action against Professors Nithaya Chetty and John van den
Berg in their Science and Agriculture faculty. As those who have followed press reports will be aware, the
disciplinary action is based on Professors Chetty and Van den Berg speaking out against Vice-Chancellor
Makgoba's omission of a document on academic freedom from Senate as well as their articulation to the
media criticisms of the institution. Alan Rycroft, the law professor representing Chetty and Van den Berg,
summarises the three charges being levelled against the two academics in Science and Agriculture as
follows: "(a) failing to take due care in communicating with the media; (b) breaching the confidentiality of
Senate; and (c) dishonesty and/or gross negligence in alleging that the Vice Chancellor had no right to
omit the Faculty of Science and Agriculture document on academic freedom from the Senate agenda."

The Academic Freedom Committee at Rhodes University would want to reiterate sentiments expressed in
a press release by the Freedom of Expression Institute on 7 November. "Academics", the press release
notes, "should be encouraged to play a public intellectual role, not punished for it". Referring to a recent
report on institutional autonomy and academic freedom, the Freedom of Expression Institute also notes:

"The authors of the report argue that if academic freedom is to be realised, higher education institutions
must 'protect the freedom of expression of academics...from undue sanction by their own institution'.

This means affording academics the space to espouse unpopular views on general matters or even in
relation to the university administration, without threats of disciplinary action. The report also notes that
'Senates, as institutional bodies, are bound to uphold the right of individual academics to freedom of
expression and freedom of scientific research'."

Brenda Schmahmann

Chair: Academic Freedom Committee
Letter of concern from David William Cohen and 34 others to the Chair of Council and Vice
Sent: 24 November 2008
We write with respect but also with deep concern for the situation developing around the cases of UKZN
academic staff members Chetty and van den Berg. As members of academic staff (faculties) in
universities in several countries, we recognize that these two individuals should enjoy the same
protections of their academic freedoms as we do, and as faculty should enjoy throughout the world. Our
abilities to promote goals of excellence in teaching, research, and service are based in these protections
of our academic freedoms. This applies to the protection of our rights develop our own research and our
own teaching, but also the protection of the continuing responsibilities of academic staff for the
governance of our institutions: including the preeminent roles of academic staff in the hiring, review,
tenuring, and dismissal of our academic peers; and including the protections of our rights and processes
to review and criticize the policies of leaders of our institutions.
We also write as colleagues concerned for the present and future of a university for which we have the
greatest respect and admiration. A number of us enjoy productive relations with academic units and
academic staff, as well as students, of UKZN. A number of us have helped produce strong working links
and exchanges between our institutions and UKZN. Some of us have been involved in training a next
generation of academic leaders now holding academic staff positions at UKZN. Some of us are
collaborating in research with UZKN researchers. All of us recognize the promise of important leadership
and research breakthroughs at UKZN from medicine to history, from producing new histories for a new
South Africa to research breakthroughs in HIV research with promise to save millions of lives. We
treasure the success of the university’s academic staff and leaders in bringing to success a challenging
integration of faculties and facilities and three very different campuses. We recall the extraordinary role
that the University had in sustaining the medical training of black South Africans through the oppressive
and discriminatory policies of apartheid. We recognize that many of the leaders of the struggle for
liberation and non-racial democracy in South Africa found their political voices while students at the
University. A few of us are old enough to remember our struggles as contemporaries outside South Africa
creating productive anti-apartheid campaigns for divestment, sanctions, and boycotts, and also toward
public education on our university campuses. Critical to the success of this activism was that we, as
academic staff, felt protected in speech and symbolic action to criticize not only apartheid, not only our
national governments, but also the leaders of our own institutions less ready, or even opposed, to our
efforts to create powerful spaces of opposition on university campuses across the world. Some of us had
to fight also for that freedom of expression on our campuses; importantly, at a number of sites the
defense of academic freedom and the campaign against apartheid became a common struggle.
We do not wish to review the specific charges brought against Chetty and van den Berg; rather, we are
deeply concerned that the adjudication processes set in motion by UKZN’s leaders run in the face of
globally recognized standards regarding the rights of academic staff to speak and act on policies of their
institutions and of higher education in particular and to maintain core responsibility for the review and
discipline of academic colleagues. These standards have been codified in the UNESCO Statement of
November 11, 1997: Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel.
These standards recognize that the protection of the rights of expression of academic staff is both
fundamental to democratic institutions in a democratic society and also essential to success of institutions
of higher education. The UNESCO recommendations hold that academic staff “should not be hindered or
impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change
through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They
should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights.” [para 26].
“higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say,
the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in
carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their
opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and
freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. All higher-education teaching
personnel should have the right to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind and without fear
of repression by the state or any other source. Higher-education teaching personnel can effectively do
justice to this principle if the environment in which they operate is conducive, which requires a democratic
atmosphere; hence the challenge for all of developing a democratic society.” [para.27]
We have deep concerns that the processes established by the leadership of the University violate broadly
and deeply held standards of governance which give a central responsibility to, and broad freedom for,
academic staff in the conduct of academic governance in institutions of higher education. The UNESCO
document holds that academic staff have
“the right and opportunity, without discrimination of any kind, according to their abilities, to take part in the
governing bodies and to criticize the functioning of higher education institutions, including their own, while
respecting the right of other sections of the academic community to participate, and they should also have
the right to elect a majority of representatives to academic bodies within the higher education institution.”
[para. 31]
“The principles of collegiality include academic freedom, shared responsibility, the policy of participation of
all concerned in internal decision making structures and practices, and the development of consultative
mechanisms. Collegial decision-making should encompass decisions regarding the administration and
determination of policies of higher education, curricula, research, extension work, the allocation of
resources and other related activities, in order to improve academic excellence and quality for the benefit
of society at large.” [para. 32]
Finally, UNESCO has declared that
“higher-education teaching personnel should contribute to the public accountability of higher education
institutions without, however, forfeiting the degree of institutional autonomy necessary for their work, for
their professional freedom and for the advancement of knowledge.”
In respect of these standards, and with concern for the future of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the
worlds of scientific and humanistic learning and research, we respectfully ask you, first, to reconsider the
process you have proposed; second, to restate the University’s commitment to academic freedom,
including the rights of academic staff to review, criticize, and debate the policies and directions of their
institutions; and, third, to reaffirm the University’s commitment to standards of university governance
consonant with the standards recognized by the UNESCO Statement of November 11 1997.
Kwame Anthony Appiah Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University
Center for Human Values Princeton University
Chris Benner Associate Professor, Human and Community Development University of California, Davis
William Beinart Rhodes Professor of Race Relations Department of Politics and International Relations
Professorial Fellow, St. Antony’s College University of Oxford
Stephanie M.H. Camp Associate Professor of History Rice University
James T. Campbell Edgar E. Robinson Professor of History Stanford University
David William Cohen Lemuel A. Johnson Collegiate Professor of African Anthropology and History,
University of Michigan
Jean Comaroff Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Professor, University of Chicago Director,
Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory
John Comaroff Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences
University of Chicago
Frederick Cooper Professor of History New York University
Fernando Coronil Presidential Professor, Graduate Center City University of New York
Donald L. Donham Professor of Anthropology University of California, Davis
Paul N. Edwards Associate Professor of Information School of Information University of Michigan
Geoff Eley Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History Chair, Department of
History, University of Michigan
Gillian Hart Professor Chair of Undergraduate Major in Development Studies Department of Geography
University of California, Berkeley
Keith Hart Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Goldsmiths, University of London and Honorary
Research Professor, School of Development Studies, UKZN
Gabrielle Hecht Department of History and Science, Technology and Society Studies University of
Daniel Herwitz Professor of History of Art, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Comparative Literature,
College of LSA, and Professor of Art & Design, School of Art & Design, Director, Institute of the
Humanities, University of Michigan
Anthea Patricia Josias Instructor School of Information University of Michigan
Preben Kaarsholm Associate Professor of International Development Studies Roskilde University,
Ivan Karp National Endowment for the Humanities Professor Center for the Study of Public Scholarship
Emory University
Corinne A. Kratz, Co-director of the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship and Professor of African
Studies & Anthropology, Emory University
Pier M. Larson, Professor Department of History The Johns Hopkins University
David Lyon, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada Queen's Research Chair and Professor of
Sociology,Queen's University, Ontario
Shula Marks Emeritus Professor SOAS University of London
Regina Morantz-Sanchez Professor of History University of Michigan
James Oakes Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor Ph.D.
Program in History, Graduate Center of the City of New York
Tejumola Olaniyan Louise Durham Mead Professor Department of English University of Wisconsin
Derek R. Peterson Senior Lecturer in African History, and Director of the Centre of African Studies,
University of Cambridge.
Lucia Saks Assistant Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures University of Michigan
Jonathan Sadowsky Castele Professor of Medical History History Department Chair Case Western
Reserve University
Scott Spector Associate Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, History, Judaic Studies, and
Asst Research Scientist, Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, University of Michigan
Dr. Simon Szreter Faculty of History and St. John’s College University of Cambridge
Lynn M. Thomas, Associate Professor, History Department University of Washington, Seattle
Penny M. Von Eschen Professor of History and Professor of American Culture University of Michigan
David A. Wallace Lecturer III School of Information University of Michigan
Dr. Christopher Warnes Faculty of English and African Studies Centre University of Cambridge
Luise White Professor, Department of History University of Florida
Letter from the Wits Senate Academic Freedom Committee

Sent: 25 November 2008

As Chairperson of the Senate Academic Freedom Committee at the University of the Witwatersrand,
Johannesburg, I am writing to you in connection with recent events at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
which have been reported in the press and which are being widely discussed amongst academic
colleagues both in South Africa and abroad. These events involve the names of Professors Nithaya
Chetty and John van den Berg, and their efforts to have an official Science Faculty proposal on Academic
Freedom included in your Senate’s agenda, as well as their comments in the media. We understand that
these colleagues face disciplinary charges for their actions. With great respect, I wish to state that
members of the Wits Academic Freedom Committee, and other colleagues, are deeply concerned by
these developments. In order for the country as whole to thrive, we require world-class universities which
can feed the economy and society with intellectual energy and innovation. Academic freedom sits at the
very heart of this project since it is critical to innovation and excellence. You will be very well aware of the
dreadful consequences of restriction on academic freedom in numerous parts of the world over many
decades, and perhaps more importantly, aware of the strong connection between academic freedom and
the success of scholarship in the world’s leading universities.
Information available indicates, disturbingly, that events at UKZN appear to reflect little respect in some
quarters for academic freedom.
An environment in which debate about the very nature and course of academic freedom is stifled, cannot
be one in which scholarship flourishes.

Available information further indicates that threats of dismissal have been held over the heads of your
University’s critics in this matter. A Faculty Board meeting to discuss the issue has apparently been
cancelled. We are told that the scholars concerned must pay for their own defence: their resources
cannot possibly match those of UKZN. This inequity surely undermines any question of academic
freedom and its adjudication. We are well aware of the complexities of circumstances at all of our
institutions. Yet a demonstration of commitment to open debate and an environment of unfettered inquiry
would surely do all of us much more good than attempts to restrict discussion. The recent Council for
Higher Education report on academic freedom reinforces our sense that positive action in support of the
concept and practice is essential. In the broader interests of South African higher education and
especially the vital concern of academic freedom, we would urge your University to rethink its approach to
the matters referred to, and to make clear its commitment to freedom of inquiry and debate. I append to
my signature below, the names of colleagues at Wits who at short notice have expressed their desire to
be associated with this communication of our views. The Wits Academic Staff Association and the
Administrative and Library Staff Association also endorse this letter.

Yours sincerely

Alan Mabin
Chairperson: Wits Senate Academic Freedom Committee

Members of the Wits Senate Academic Freedom Committee:
Gillian Eagle
Conrad Mueller
Wesahl Domingo
Peter Delius
Adesola Ilemobade

Members of Wits Senate:
David Coplan, School of Social Sciences
Alan Rothberg, School of Therapeutic Sciences Isabel Hofmeyr, School of Literature and Language
Studies Anitra Nettleton, School of Arts Marie Huchzermeyer, School of Architecture and Planning Gerrit
Olivier, School of Arts Mary Scholes, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences Belinda
Bozzoli, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research Norman Duncan, School of Human and Community
Development François Viruly, School of Construction Economics and Management Edward Moss, School
of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering Aubrey Blecher, School of Mathematics &
Chairperson ASAWU Barry Dwolatzky, School of Electrical & Information Engineering Leon de Kock,
School of Literature and Language Studies Colin Richards, School of Arts Ken Nixon, School of Electrical
and Information Engineering Ian Jandrell, School of Electrical and Information Engineering Jane Taylor,
School of Arts Adele Underhay, Centre for Sustainability in Mining & President ALTSA Philip Bonner,
School of Social Sciences Hilary Janks, School of Education