VC TownHall Meeting 6 August 2015

The VC’s meeting with the Wits community took place on 6 August 2015. Below are questions and answers from the meeting.

General comments from the VC:

One student, One laptop initiative:

The SRC and VC estimated that at least 30 percent of students do not have access to technological devices outside of the institution. The SRC said they are in discussions with Microsoft and are working with the University to find a solution to this problem.

 

Transformation

A fund has been created for R45 million for the appointment of new African and Coloured professors.

Two committees have been formed to ensure accelerated implementation, policy development and oversight.

The first is the Transformation Implementation Committee which will meet on a monthly basis and be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib. It will include the five Executive Deans, three Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Head of the Transformation Office and two academic staff members. This Committee will oversee the appointment of African and Coloured South African staff. It will also disburse grants to existing African and Coloured staff to support the creation of an enabling environment for their achievement of the criteria that are required for promotion to the professoriate. The Committee will also assume responsibility for the Vice-Chancellor’s Equity Fund that is targeted at the appointment of staff from all designated groups. It will have oversight over the implementation of all eight programmes identified in the Executive Statement and Strategic Plan.

The second Committee is an expanded Transformation Steering Committee to be chaired by Professor Tawana Kupe, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Advancement, HR and Transformation. This Committee will review and advise on transformation policies and have general oversight of transformation matters at the University. It will have representation from all key University constituencies.

 

Medical Aid

There have been a number of debates on medical aid because colleagues were unhappy with the cheaper option that was available. We went back to the drawing board and drew another low cost option.

A survey was circulated to all staff. Twenty percent of the staff polled were interested in the options. We have now lodged these two low cost options to the medical aid board, council for medical aid on 20 July. The cheaper option allows you access to key care network hospitals and a set of designated doctors. That is the cheapest option available. These options will need to be registered before the University runs with them.

 

Parking on West Campus

We are opening up more parking bays and are negotiating with the John Orr Technical School  to make their parking bays available. We have also opened bays for bicycles on West Campus.

Parking is an ongoing problem and it would cost R300 million to build more parking bays.

 

Theft on campus

The University is monitoring this situation and is aware that people have been victims of theft on campus. The VC has requested that security be intensified.

 

Safety and security:

Q: What measures have you taken to ensure the residences such as Esselen and other areas are safer and how do you measure that these actions are enough?

A: I have said this before at this town hall meeting. Last year someone got into the next door building, Florence Nightingale, and fired bullets into one of the rooms at Esselen. I went public and really was harshly critical of the Johannesburg City Council. We put in a series of measures in place around buses, security, and some other challenges that existed in Esselen.

I said in October last year I don’t have the mandate or authority to look after Hillbrow. I can’t guarantee the safety and security in Hillbrow. I want to move all the students out of Esselen into a special housing we arranged in Braamfontein. I was overturned by the students. We did a survey and the students voted against moving. If we moved to Braamfontein we could have had another residence at the same cost as Esselen but without some services. It didn’t have a laundromat and provide some of the other services. If we added the services with the service provider the amount would have gone up.

I am of the view that we should close down  Esselen because I can’t guarantee what happens in Florence Nightingale, which is under the municipality’s control. We have written to them, I have spoken to the mayor and the city manager and frankly they won’t enforce the municipal by-laws. They said they do not have the resources to remove the people because the constitution says before they move the people and clear Florence Nightingale they must provide alternative accommodation, and they don’t have alternative accommodation.

I have already spoken to Pamela Dube (Dean of Students) and the executives about the possibility of closing down Esselen and making an alternative arrangement in Braamfontein.

 

Staff issues:

Q: What is the recourse that we have as staff members to make sure that policies are being adhered to and that staff is being treated fairly?

A: One has to understand the details of what you are suggesting and see if our rules and policies are being violated. If there is a situation as you suggest where people are not being treated fairly and equally then we have a problem and we need to investigate. You go directly to HR. You can also email me or Tawana Kupe.

 

Transport

Q: I am from Project W and in the short amount of time we have been able to provide daily transport – why have you failed to deliver these basic needs who pay exorbitant fees when a student organisation with very limited resources have been find a way to do it?

A: We provide a fair degree of transport which cost an enormous amount of money. If you want expand that – make a proposal and we will explore the feasibility of that within the current cost structures. If we can do it in the framework of the existing costs, I would be happy to do so but if we can’t we will need to enter negotiations with the SRC and other appropriate bodies.

Beatrys Lacquet: The students currently pay for bus service from residences. We understood that these students are not residence students and that a Metrobus Service from Bree Street is available. The SRC is having an information session on all campuses as announced to advertise the various bus services to and from Wits.

 

Toll free campus control number

Q: In the times of crime a student is required to call campus control but may not have air time. Can the number become toll free?

A: I did not realise it’s not a toll free number, we can and should do that. This is a legitimate request and I will explore this with Beatrys Lacquet (DVC: Knowledge, Information & Management) immediately.

 

Infrastructure

Q: What provisions are put into place to address the infrastructural issues and raise the bar in terms of our facilities?

A: In the last eight to nine years we have spent close to R1.5 billion on new buildings and we have not been putting money into maintaining them. In this current cycle we will increase the maintenance budget. We are going prioritise those parts that involve an interface between infrastructure, staff and students such as lecture halls and students residences.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) have also prioritised maintenance so there is going to be a double hit on maintenance in the coming year. Please send Prof. Lacquet the specific examples you mentioned.

Some of the maintenance budget has been redirected into buying generators because as the load shedding happens we can’t afford for our residences and exams halls to go dark. It costs the University between R60-80 million.

 

Anti-discrimination policy

Q: Would you review the anti-discrimination policy and include the annexures that were excluded?

A: I don’t precisely know what you are talking about, so please send us a proposal. If you have recommendations that are in line with our constitution as I understand it and that speaks to strengthening our anti-discrimination clauses and policies, then I am happy to support it. Please send an email to Pamela Dube.

Q: We would like to ask senior management at Wits to take the safe-zone training.

A: Please email the proposal to Pamela.

 

Skills and qualifications audit

Q: Will the University embark on a succession planning and skills development exercise? What is Wits doing about a promotion policy for professional and administrative staff?

A: This is a complicated issue for example if you appoint someone in HR and you appointed at the level of labour relations we have a set amount of work. A promotion opportunity only becomes available when someone leaves.

When an academic gets a promotion it is because they have published more or got a new qualification but they still doing the same job – they still have to teach and research.

Therefore, we have been dealing with it through salary and ensuring we reward people for the job they do. I am told by the professional staff that they don’t get paid enough but the bench mark analysis done shows professional staff at Wits are paid higher than any other higher education institution in this country. The analysis done by the bench marking industry and has been shared with the unions.

We are looking at a skills audit. We are starting with finance to see what skill sets are available.

 

Outsourced staff wages

Q: I was with one of the cleaners who showed me her payslip. She said for ten hours she only received R120. How do we support service providers that exploit the black body?

A: All the companies that you are talking about are not white companies and in many cases we have a very strong BEE components. It is not white profit but it is corporate profit. We stipulate in each contract that a person must be paid a certain amount of money and I am certain that no one is paid R120 because we do not have an amount that is so low. I suggest you bring me the slip we will have Tawana Kupe investigate the matter.

Our outsourced workers do not get paid well; the question is how dowe address that challenge? We got two types of money: subsidies and fees, if we pay more (anything between R170 million to R200 million) we have to make that up in either fees or subsidies.

We are going into a new round of contracts. Thinking out of the box, the way the Canadians do this is that they have worker co-operatives and in the universities workers’ co-operatives compete against each other for the contracts. The profits are shared between workers. The unions and students organisations concerned with workers solidarity can help workers at Wits by starting up co-operatives to compete for contracts.

On the issue of curriculum change you told us you will look into it and today you have said that funds have been allocated for this and this but there is still no clear plan of action for the students?

 

Student fees

Q: What you are doing to address the drop-out rate at the university?

A: We have opened conversations with banks to finance the students and are looking at using NSFAS as a leverage. Poor students don’t have collateral for loans so we propose they can you use their NSFAS funding as collateral. We are aware that the downside is that everyone comes out with debt and that is a hard trade off.

 

Buses

Q: Why are busses not allowed to use the main entrance at the Education campus?

A: This is not true, bus routes are determined in an independent process.

 

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