The UCT Academic Freedom Committee has previously criticised the practice of universities pressing disciplinary charges against their members for expressing their considered opinions on issues of public interest. In this context, it is necessary for us to respond to the recent disciplinary charges against the former deputy registrar of UCT, Paul Ngobeni.
Ngobeni was charged with making it impossible to continue a working relationship with the professors of the Faculty of Law, who gave advice on legal issues for which he, as deputy registrar for legal services, was responsible. The charge against him was not one of defamation, but defamation was an integral element of the charge, as it was this that was alleged to have made the working relationship impossible.
The AFC has discussed the Ngobeni case with members of UCT senior management. We do not wish to comment on the merits of the proceedings against Ngobeni. However, we view with serious concern any charges brought by a university against one of its members for expressing their views in public debate. We believe this should only be done in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort.
We believe that far greater transparency is necessary in cases of this kind, in order to avoid the danger that such proceedings would have the effect of suppressing public debate, or debate within the university.
We welcome the vice-chancellor's proposal to look into UCT procedures in such cases with a view to making them more transparent.
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