Facing Chris-icism: CPUT boss’s appointment questioned
Chris Nhlapo 'wasn't preferred candidate' to be Cape Peninsula University of Technology vice-chancellor
The appointment of Dr Chris Nhlapo as vice-chancellor of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology has been mired in controversy after it emerged that a statutory body rejected him as the preferred candidate.
The Institutional Forum – which advises the university council on the selection of candidates for senior management positions – said Nhlapo “does not possess the strongest academic credentials and scholarly output compared to the other candidates”.
Two others, who were found to be appointable but were recommended as the second and third choices, were Professor Andrew Crouch from the University of the Witwatersrand and Professor Sandile Songca from the University of Zululand. Crouch is the deputy vice-chancellor for academics at Wits, while Songca is the deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at the UniZul.The chairperson of the CPUT council, Nogolide Nojozi, announced Nhlapo's appointment on Friday.
He has been acting as vice-chancellor since August 2017 after Professor John Volmink, who had acted in the position on a temporary basis since October 31 2016, left.
Volmink assumed the acting role after CPUT’s former vice-chancellor, Prins Nevhutalu, was placed on special leave on October 21 2016. He resigned in October last year after he was found guilty of gross misconduct by an internal disciplinary committee.
In a document titled Institutional Forum advice to council, dated June 21, the forum said that it did not support the recommendation of the search and selection committee for senior appointments (SSCSA) that Nhlapo was the preferred candidate because of “the apparent need for coaching or mentoring” him.
“The university needs a vice-chancellor who is immediately able to lead effectively without needing further development to succeed,” the forum said.
It said that the one of the three referees’ reports for Nhlapo had indicated a hesitance for his role at this stage and that “it may be a bit of a stretch for him”.
The Institutional Forum instead recommended Crouch for the post, saying he had “outstanding academic credentials and scholarly output”.
“The candidate has excellent leadership experience having worked in a complex, large-sized university. He is internationally acknowledged and experienced.”
The Institutional Forum said: “It is an opportunity for CPUT to appoint a vice-chancellor who reflects the demographics of the Western Cape.”Motivating why they regarded Nhlapo as the preferred candidate, the SSCSA said: “He demonstrated passion to reclaim CPUT from a number of damaging setbacks and showed insight into how the standards can be lifted to that of an international university.”
The SSCSA said that he also provided evidence of managing big budgets, doing fundraising and several research initiatives.
But an academic, who preferred not to be identified for fear of victimisation, accused Nhlapo of only employing white staff.
“He reverses transformation. The university is becoming white under his leadership. His decision-making leaves a lot to be desired; he takes too long to take decisions,” the staff member said.
He alluded to the Yekiso commission of inquiry that was established to, among other things, investigate complaints received by CPUT’s council between 2014 and September last year concerning allegations of executive management control of CPUT.
“If we employ this person now and he is implicated in that report, what happens then?”
Another academic also expressed concerns over Nhlapo's handling of transformation issues, saying he refused to provide statistics on the number of black South Africans who were professors and lecturers at the institution.
“We don't believe he will be able to manage the institution which is in trouble. His appointment is going to create further instability.”
However, Nojozi, insisted that their decision to appoint Nhlapo was taken after an extensive and robust selection process which was “transparent, inclusive and credible”.
The selection process included the appointment of an external executive recruitment specialist, a public presentation by the shortlisted candidates to the university community and an intensive interview conducted by a diverse panel.
She said in an e-mailed response that the SSCSA thoroughly debated the appointability of the candidates, as well as the merits of each.Nojozi said that the recommendation to appoint Nhlapo was unanimously endorsed at senate and also unanimously accepted by the council.
“While input from institutional stakeholders like the Institutional Forum was taken into consideration, the final decision is council’s.
“It must also be made clear that dissenting views were given the due consideration but they were at no stage the general view of the majority of stakeholders. Dr Nhlapo was viewed as the best fit candidate,” said Nojozi.
Responding to the comments from the academics, CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said that under Nhlapo's leadership a director for transformation and social cohesion was appointed.
“Under her leadership, a groundbreaking transformation and social cohesion statement is about to be rolled out to the entire CPUT community with the full support of executive management.”
She said the views of the academics were “a minority one and the majority of CPUT staff are excited at the prospect of Dr Nhlapo’s leadership”.
Nhlapo said he was “thrilled and humbled” to be appointed, adding: “The task I face is complex. During my acting period, I started with the conceptual underpinning of Vision 2030 for the institution. I am looking forward to completing this plan and rolling it out to enable the institution to respond to the challenges such as the 4th Industrial revolution.”