The crisis at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) took a new turn this week as lecturers and administrative staff called for the sacking of the acting Vice Chancellor Professor Dennis Siginer.
Siginer, who is the deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, was appointed after the resignation of Vice Chancellor Professor Hillary Inyang recently. In a letter dated 02 November 2014 addressed and delivered to the Minister of Education and Skills Development, Mokgweetsi Masisi, members of the BIUST Academic Senate and administrative staff asked the minister to use BIUST statute 29.6 and sack Professor Siginer.
“We recommend the immediate removal from office, the temporary Acting Vice Chancellor, Professor Dennis Siginer and his suspension as Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost due to misconduct and incompetence in the leadership of the university,” reads part of the letter.
The letter, which was also copied to the University Chancellor Festus Mogae and BIUST Council Chairman, Boyce Sebetlela, lists a litany of complaints against the acting VC, notably disregarding and dismantling functional academic and research infrastructure and that he never consults the BIUST academic senate.
The Acting Vice Chancellor is also accused of allowing the immediate former acting chair of BIUST Council to over-reach his authority and actively get involved in operational management of the university.
After he took over as the acting chair of BIUST council, Sebetlela is said to have dissolved the BIUST Management Commission of enquiry into the attempted abduction of foreign staff and reversed the administrative suspension of some BIUST management staff that were being investigated.
Professor Siginer and Sebetlela are also accused by BIUST staff of reversing the recommendation made by President Ian Khama that the college of science be temporarily located in Serowe.
Opening of 2014/15 academic year in doubt
With BIUST having halted the renovation of the Old Sekgoma Hospital in Serowe, lecturers at the science and technology university are doubtful if the 2014/15 academic year will materialise as there is acute shortage of facilities at the main campus in Palapye. The decision is said to have been taken by the acting VC and acting chair of BIUST council Sebetlela.
The 2014/15 academic year was supposed to have started last month (October) but it has since been postponed indefinitely. The other problem that BIUST is facing is that they need more than 15 new faculty members in the college of Engineering before the commencement of the academic year.
Investigate Sebetlela and Professor Siginer –report
Lecturers and administrative staff led by Professor John Stanfield, Interim Distinguished Professor and founding Director of MIDGRI, has called on Minister Masisi to establish the Ministerial Independent Assessment Panel on BIUST council and Management to investigate, deliberate and make recommendations about the conditions surrounding the termination of the former chair and resignation of VC.
They also want the acting chair Sebetlela to be investigated for conflict of interest in his decision to disband the commission of inquiry instituted by management on the attempted abduction of foreign staff.
They say Prof. Siginer’s inability to lead and stabilise a university, is the reason why they are urgently recommending his immediate dismissal and immediate reversal of his decisions. The BIUST staff also calls on the minister to further investigate whether Professor Siginer misrepresented himself during the hiring and interview process for a position of BIUST deputy Vice Chancellor.
“He claimed he had 15 years of experience as a Provost in the United States with 15 years as a Distinguished Professor. Research has shown that Prof. Siginer’s senior administration experience in the United States was at the level of Dean for two and half years, not Provost,” reads the letter.
Most of Prof. Siginer’s career in American universities has been in modestly regional if not non-descriptive rather than nationally ranked research universities with schools of engineering, they argued.
Who is Professor Siginer?
He is the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and took over as the Acting Vice Chancellor of BIUST after the resignation of Prof. Hillary who was not happy with the political interference in the running of the institution and the sacking of the then BIUST chair Serwalo Tumelo.
He successively held the joint appointments of Acting Provost, Associate Provost and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the Petroleum Institute in the United Arab Emirates.
It was while at the institution that he ran into a major accusation regarding disrupting hiring practices, dismissing teaching staff. In one of the e-mail that The Patriot on Sunday is in possession of dated 06th October 2009, one of the lecturers Dr. Sayel Ali accused Prof. Siginer and Dr. Michael Ohadi (Provost and acting President) for unprofessional governing of the institution.
After the resignation of PI President Prof. Ohadi, Prof. Siginer tendered his resignation. He also served as Dean of the CoE at Wichita State University, and as Head of ME Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ. He is a Life Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Mechanics and New York Academy of Sciences.
Prof. Siginer responds
In response to the allegations made against him, Professor Siginer denied all the accusations and said that he was not aware that members of the staff have written a letter to the Minister of Education and Skills Development complaining about his leadership at BIUST. Efforts to get comment from the Minister of Education Masisi were futile at the time of going as his phone was off.
No comment - Sebetlela
Acting BIUST Chairperson, Boyce Sebetlela, refused to comment, saying that they have decided to keep quiet and not respond to allegations levelled against them.