MASERU — National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Siverts’ is on the ropes after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and university teachers ganged up against her.
Last Friday Thabane gave a glimpse of his take on the dispute at NUL when he told his All Basotho Convention (ABC) youth league conference that he would not allow a “white woman” to run NUL.
Thabane did not mention Siverts by name but he was clearly referring to her when he said the government would not “look for a frail white woman to run the university when we have intellectuals who can transform NUL and turn its fortunes around”.
That statement is not very different from the one he made at political rallies days before the May 26 election.
On May 20, Thabane told an ABC rally that the Democratic Congress government had neglected NUL despite that most of its senior officials had been students there.
He said his government would deal with the problems at NUL.
“Once the ABC becomes government it will humbly ask that American woman (NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Siverts) to go as Lesotho has enough literate people who can run the university effectively,” Thabane said.
His statement at the youth conference came on the same day the Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru) demanded Siverts’ immediate resignation in a scathing open letter.
Siverts, Lutaru said, has caused “untold harm to NUL and the country’s resources and the university’s ability to fulfill its public mandate”.
“We call on you to do the honourable thing, resign now,” Lutaru said in the strongly worded letter.
“We also request those responsible for your continued stay at NUL to reconsider their support for you in the light of the harm and waste you have caused to NUL, the country, and the nation.”
The union said in the “past weeks and months different NUL formations have asked you to leave NUL”.
“You have been able to cling on to your job and to plunder the university resources because of your relations with the chairman of council and other influential individuals, all of whom have ensured that you stay here on an expensive contract that the Chairman of Council has failed, to date, to table before the Governing Body for approval, a contract that has ensured that you live a lavish lifestyle in this poor country.”
Lutaru accused Siverts of going on leave when results were being processed.
It said her absence showed that she was not interested in “the mess that engulfs supplementary examinations”.
She is also accused of “vanity, arrogance towards staff and their welfare, and total ignorance about running a university”.
“Specifically, we are aware that during industrial action by workers last year, you maliciously sabotaged an attempt by government to facilitate a compromise deal between NUL and workers.
“Part of your spiteful reasoning was that government’s intended facilitation of a settlement should not be revealed, least of all implemented, because it would go against your personal conviction that staff should be paid as little as possible, and it would make you look bad.”
Siverts, who was appointed in February last year, is also accused of hiring her friend to be the university’s IT specialist.
That specialist went on leave when the results were being processed, the union alleged.
“When you disappeared at the beginning of processing of examinations, you allowed him also to go on leave, knowing full well the centrality of the IT function to the examination results processing.”
The union said Siverts “made several other such appointments and redeployments of your ‘favourites’ whose sum effect has been increased costs to NUL without adding any value as reflected in the current crisis”.
Siverts declined to comment yesterday.