The call by senior academic staff at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to get Sharon Siverts sacked as vice-chancellor must be resisted by all individuals concerned with the future of the university and that of Lesotho at large.
Last week, the deans and the director of the Institute of Extra-Mural Studies and the librarian penned a strongly worded letter to new Education Minister ’Makabelo Mosothoane urging her to relieve Siverts of her duties.
That call must be resisted.
After a careful assessment of the deans’ petition our position as a newspaper is that the academics’ argument lacks merit.
We also think it is driven by self-interest and the need for self-preservation. The larger interests of the nation must be allowed to take precedence over those of individuals.
The deans’ assessment is also not neutral. It is biased and parochial.
The tragedy is that the senior academic members have allowed themselves to sink so low as to reduce what is a serious national crisis to that of personalities.
When they claim they can manage the situation at NUL better without the vice-chancellor we wonder whether they want to propose an anarchic situation where they would be allowed to operate without supervision.
We believe it is here that our learned colleagues have lost it.
The problems at NUL, which we all know, go much deeper than the issue of personalities.
Replacing Siverts with a new person, whether a foreigner or an indigenous Mosotho as has been demanded in other forums, will not be a magic bullet.
We have tried it before and we all know the results.
While Siverts might have her own faults, our position is that we find no wrong in her call to reform the university and make it responsive to the needs of the country.
In fact, we believe as an outsider with vast experience in academia, she is best placed to make an independent assessment of the challenges and propose the way forward.
Yes, she might have her faults, like everyone else.
But we believe her strengths far outweigh her faults.
We also think it’s too soon to change the chief executive so soon after she took the reins. She needs to be given an opportunity and enough time to turn around the university’s fortunes.
We therefore find no fault with her goal to turn NUL into a world-class university, just like Yale and Stanford, that produces world-class graduates.
Of course any restructuring programme will mean loss of jobs as some programmes and lecturers are deemed surplus to requirements.
The basic point that all must grasp is that there is no malice in taking such reform-driven action.
We all know that institutions that refuse to reform risk stagnating into irrelevance.
We certainly do not want NUL to go that route. We expect NUL to start producing world-class graduates in areas that this country desperately needs.
Some programmes must therefore be ditched.
Education Minister Mosothoane must therefore publicly back Siverts and reassure her that her job is not on the line.
In principle we agree with the reform programme at NUL and would want to see it run to its logical conclusion.
But if there are any areas that the government can tweak it is within its prerogative to do so.
We are aware that Siverts was appointed with the blessings of the previous government headed by Pakalitha Mosisili.
Even if she is eventually sacked this will not change our position that the university is crying out for drastic changes in its curriculum and its modus operandi.
It is either the university reforms or it sinks into irrelevance.
NUL academics must therefore rise above the issue of personalities and propose well thought alternatives if they have any.
We are confident that the new government headed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has the best interests of Basotho and will make well informed choices regarding our national asset in Roma.