Written around: March to June 2021
The story I usually don’t like telling:
That there are people who don't want me around, became very evident to me since the time my Application for Professorship was first considered at Faculty Sub-ASAC in August 2018. The sources of points (earned or achieved) that I had claimed in my application became obvious to everyone and immediately some colleagues shamelessly started to question my credentials and credibility, with the sole aim to hinder my academic movements.
I was removed from Headship (in an extremely influenced, unfair and prejudiced Departmental Meeting on August 31st, 2018) after just one-term (this had happened for the first and only time, at least since I joined NUL in 2003). That too, after a number of accomplishments (As the Head of Physics: Launch of Chicken Incubator, Approval for ERC and Sust. Energy Short-Courses at Senate level & CHE level; and outside the Department: NULRIC, NULIH, NULISTICE2018, NUL Innovations Hub, etc.).
But, they wanted a rubber-stamp Head and they had already found one in Dr Makhele. I had, unofficially made the then PVC aware of the situation, reminding her about the rule that says only a professorial staff in the department should occupy such administrative positions. It should be noted that even if I was deemed unsuitable, the Department still had two other Associate Professors (Prof Singh and Prof Taele), who could have been offered that responsibility. Consequences of not following the rules are obvious now.
What followed was a series of malicious attempts to demean my position (serious false allegations... It’s another long story: Threatening on phone and e-mails full of false allegations, The samples-cheating controversy, Hacking of my e-mail account twice, and what not! With all these developments, I had already realized (by November 2018) that my next contract renewal would not be easy.
I was treated so unfairly, I developed a number of health related issues (hypertension, anxiety, sleeplessness, etc), until a brain-tumour was detected (hearing this, I had collapsed and rushed to Bloemfontein on ambulance!) on December 12th 2018 and I had to undergo a very complicated brain-surgery on January 02nd 2019. A lot of things happened but I survived them all, because I was destined to go through more humiliations perhaps, more challenges... But that was then... I am not seeking any sympathy.
The Departmental Meeting on March 01 2021 (where my contract renewal was discussed), was again highly influenced, unfair and prejudiced. My updated CV wasn’t requested for tabling until the Meeting had already started at 10.00 AM. Only around 10.48 AM, I received a WhatsApp message from the HoD Dr Makhele requesting me to submit the CV. This, in my point of view, was a clear indication of what outcome I was going to get after the Meeting. Ideally, I should also have been a part of that Meeting (to deliberate upon issues on the agenda other than my own case, where I should have been excused. That has been the usual practice), but no links were shared with me to join that online Meeting. It should also be noted that the CV for another renewal was available and shared in advance with members.
Even before that, there were clear attempts to delay the process of my contract renewal even after having received the renewal documents at the Department from the DHR.
Earlier, around October last year, I had already started writing e-mail-requests (written to HoD, Dean and DHR) to start the process of contract renewal (because I had noticed some non-agreement between dates of expiry of my Contract, Work-Permit and Residence-Permit. I was stressed, also because of the COVID-19 situation, which has led to extraordinary delays in processing of all applications for renewal of Work- and Residence-Permits, taking 6-8 months’ time)! But I never received any response (I had submitted a Memo on this at the office of VC too with copies of my e-mail requests)! In the meanwhile, I was assured that it would be done in due course of time and I thought of waiting until the end of January. However, not seeing any progress, I eventually decided to share my concerns with Dean-FoST, which I did on Saturday Feb 20th. Result: Surprisingly, the very next working day (Monday Feb 22nd), a Departmental Meeting was scheduled, but for the next Monday (Mar 1st). Intentions were clear!
The anticipated outcome of negative recommendation was communicated to me verbally on March 3rd. I was told that the Department had problems with me apparently on these 3 issues: Mentorship, Bringing funds and MSc Programme development, where according to them, I had miserably failed!!! There were some concerns over my decisions taken as a Head (Sep 2016 – Sep 2018) also.
Here is my Rebuttal of charges:
To begin with, it is noteworthy that it is my 18th year at NUL, and only last year I have been promoted to Full-Professorship! Now, here is my response to each of these points, apparently raised by the members:
Mentorship: My doors were never closed. I have always been available for any discussion, any guidance, and any collaboration. However, the junior colleagues rarely approached me for any good advice or guidance (if that is Mentorship), even after my friendly relationships with most of them.
Publishing joint papers: Please consider the following instances and I leave it to able colleagues to decide if these humble attempts fall under the category of so-called “Mentor-ship” or not:
If “Mentoring” means including names of colleagues from the Department in research papers: Names of at least 3 Departmental colleagues (who really contributed) appear in my papers.
Apart from these, there are a number of Conference papers where names of colleagues from the Department appear (at least 3 names).
These Colleagues must have definitely benefited from these joint-papers, e.g., at the time of their promotions.
If “Mentoring” allows interdisciplinary research and including names of colleagues from other Departments: Joint papers published with at least 2 colleagues from Chemistry.
If “Mentoring” allows including names of students: Joint papers published with at least 7 students.
My list of publications may be checked for confirmation of all these points mentioned above.
Joint internal projects: I have been part of a number of internal Joint Research Projects with colleagues within and outside the Department. One joint project is still ongoing as I am writing this Memo.
Failed initiatives and bad experiences: I have examples of a number of failed attempts to “mentor” colleagues (attempts failed, so there are no evidences).
[Just for example: In 2017, immediately after the launch of Egg Incubator at ISAS, I had requested Mr Mohlalisi and Mr Koetze to prepare a paper. I was willing to guide them. I don’t know if they wrote anything or not; they never discussed it with me any further! More on this may be found here]
Helping students join South African Universities for their Master's level degrees. Many of them are still in touch with me and may be contacted for verification. If “Mentoring” means just helping someone grow and mature in their own area of work and/or interests (related to Science or not), I have a number of examples, from helping a writer, some journalists, and incubates at NUL Innovations Hub.
Letters of recommendation: Written for at least 3 colleagues to help them get better positions elsewhere (I don’t think it would be wise to mention their names) and even to support an application for ICTP Associateship for one! Copies of most of these letters are still with me.
Question: Does “Mentoring” someone, mean just including his/her name in publications, arbitrarily, even without any contribution? If this was the case, I should have been informed, in written, that I was under-performing on this one, and should have been advised to improve! That is the usual process, I reckon, supposed to be followed before an official termination.
As for me, I would like to put on records that I always follow these two rules (driven by common sense and ethics) to decide whose name to include in joint papers: (i) My name must be added in the paper if I have contributed in that research work, and (ii) My name must not be added at all if I have not contributed. The same rules must apply to everyone else. (By the way, there is a third rule: that I will never pay anything, anywhere to get my works published. This one brings the quality).
Issue of Funding: Colleagues may like it or not, but the following important facts do matter:
(i) In most of the cases, Research-Funding agencies award funds to the citizens of the country where they want to invest their funds. Being an expatriate doesn’t help.
(ii) Research-Funding agencies want good research output. Good research output requires good research infrastructure. It must therefore be very clear that no infrastructure attracts no Funding, especially in Science!
A standard solution often suggested is that collaborative research could be a possible way to move forward! What we conveniently forget is that there is nothing like free-lunch. Collaborations are two-way traffic, give & take affair... Therefore, again the issue of infrastructure comes into picture. What do we have here to offer and attract collaborators?
Your collaborators would expect some contributions from your side when they offer some from their side. What do we at NUL have in plate for them? Why would someone collaborate with an Institution that doesn’t even have the very basic research infrastructure in place, that doesn’t even have intentions to improve, leave alone enough funding, (not even a good quality guest-house to host the visiting researchers)?
Talking big expectations is very easy. But it is also a fact that Expatriates are not given same opportunities to visit partner Institutions.
[I have the experience: Despite showing my willingness, in written, to visit iThemba LABS, Cape Town in 2010, I wasn’t given an opportunity. Despite showing my interest verbally to visit LRSM, USA around 2014, I was clearly told by the then HoD that that collaboration was not meant for expatriates. Moreover, I was not even asked to go for that ToT (Training of Trainers) on renewable energy in Cape Town recently, which was attended by a number of people from FoST). There could be many excuses and explanations on this but I have only one point that I could have been easily, officially tasked by the HoD/Dean, to attend those trainings and/or visit partners (if collaborations were believed to be the only way), instead of complaining now.
...and just by the way, may we ask those who visited these collaborators at iThemba, LRSM etc... What had been the outcome? How many papers did they publish out of those visits? And how many people have they mentored?
It may also be considered pertinent that during 2010-2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approached Lesotho to create a local chapter to oversee relevant issues. I was nominated by the management to represent the University, which I did. However, the related authorities stopped communicating with me when the visiting experts from Hungary and the USA recommended me to be the Director of that upcoming IAEA Lesotho Chapter (or, the Regulatory Authority). Apart from that I was working on a proposal-proposal to establish that NPTL (Nuclear Physics Teaching Laboratory) within NUL with funding support from IAEA (I still have a copy of that draft proposal), but getting delinked from that body stopped the progress.
MSc Programe: I, along with my Physics team, was tasked to draft MSc Applied Physics programme, and some others in the department were developing MSc Electronics and MSc Engineering Communications programme (there were some activities done to launch an MSc Materials Science programme too).
We had finished working the draft MSc Applied Physics programme way back in 2018, when two things happened: (i) I was kicked out of my Headship (August) and (ii) I had to undergo my brain surgery (December). When I came back (March 2019), it was entirely the job of the new Head of Department and the Dean of Faculty (incidentally the same person, after that unfortunate demise of the then Dean-FoST Prof Ramollo in July 2019) to take it further through the CHE recommended steps and administrative processes for approval.
Interestingly, the same people are now trying to make me a scapegoat for their own failures!
Put aside Applied Physics... Where are the other programmes other colleagues (mainly from Electronics side) were developing? Any answers?
In the meantime, with some assistance from a former student, I had also finished (last year before first Lockdown) drafting of the course synopses for planned Nuclear Physics programmes. Obviously, the HoD failed to make the Meeting aware of these contributions for reasons better known to him.
Apart from the above, I am aware of the following unfair steps taken at various levels:
1. After the Departmental Meeting, the Head informed me that the decision of non-renewal has been made on the basis of certain three reasons as mentioned above. However, the reasons given to me in a letter from Chairman, FoST sub-ASAC (The Dean), are completely different.
2. The above difference suggests a misrepresentation by the Department to the Faculty. Indeed, there is a suspicion because I am aware of a manipulation of the Minutes of the Departmental Meeting.
3. Further, FoST sub-ASAC was denied the usual broad discussion by not inviting the Faculty Professors to its meeting.
4. Between the Faculty and the University level, the members of the committee were clearly influenced to support the non-renewal.
Most important of all is this:
• I was never given an opportunity to explain my side of the story at any level. All decisions were taken one-sidedly!
• There are no records of insubordination, misbehaviour, or of non- or under-performance in my nearly 18 years of employment at the University.
• I have academically grown through the ranks of Lecturer, Senior-Lecturer, Associate Professor to Full Professor in due course, which implies that this sudden decision of non-renewal, ignoring current difficult COVID times and even my recent health conditions is clearly malicious, unjust and actually cruel.
• If I ever get a chance, I would definitely like to know:
How come it took members of the Department nearly 18 years to realize that I was not mentoring, not bringing funds, and not finishing the jobs assigned to me?
Ok, if I was expected to accomplish these as an expatriate Full-Professor, it may be noted that my Full-Professorship was confirmed only last June... So how come the members realized so quickly (in less than a year, that too, conveniently ignoring my recent health issues and prevailing COVID-19 situation), that I have not done enough as an expatriate Professor?
Without performing how was my contract was renewed 7 times (in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and in 2018) by the same Department and through the same Committees?
[Written between March to June 2021]
The Story I Usually Don't Like Telling
Written around: March to June 2021