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Remark, review: Student ruffles university’s academic feathers

2017-09-12 18:20

A student complaint about the remarking of an exam script by a post-graduate candidate at the Central University of Technology has opened a can of academic worms.

What should have been an easy task to remark Selebedi Konstable’s project management theory script ended up with the university investigating its department of business support studies management in the faculty of management studies.

The university investigated allegations that the department:

• Allowed under-qualified staff to teach B Tech students;

• Some came unprepared to teach;

• There was a lack of academic freedom during class debates; and,

• Insulting behaviour and arrogance by staff.

Konstable, a BTech project management student, wrote a complaint titled “When the state of affairs is so visibly wrong but everyone shut their eyes wide open”, to faculty dean Professor Albert Strydom in February.

He said his problems started when he had a fallout with his project management theory lecturer after he had identified errors in the way his script was marked in his June exam last year.

This happened again in December, forcing him to file his complaint in February.

In June last year, he asked the department to look at his exam script and applied for remarking.

It was then discovered that answers to some questions in the lecturer’s answer sheet were incorrect, he said in his complaint.

Ultimately, his marks were adjusted.

He alleged that the lecturer took offence when he once again asked for a review and remarking of his script in December last year after he was dissatisfied with his results – a script that is still under a dispute.

Adding salt to his wounds, he believed that other lecturers adopted a negative attitude during the last half of the year and one of them dismissed him in class during a discussion.

Konstable believed that the two incidents were linked because an entrepreneurship lecturer had asked about him (his attitude) from a classmate following the fallout with the other lecturer.

He alleged that the two academics sought to “intimidate and victimise” him.

One of them was allegedly the spouse of the deputy vice-chancellor and an entrepreneurship lecturer.

Konstable said another lecturer was related to the head of the department. This lecturer did not have a master’s qualification, he said, but was allowed to teach and was arrogant towards students.

Strydom launched an investigation after Konstable elevated his allegations about intimidation and improperly marked scripts, saying he could not trust the department due to the close relationship between the senior academics.

He said he found that the outcome of Strydom’s investigation was disappointing because it was dismissive of the gravity of allegations.

“I’ve been advised that they are yet to hand over my December script to other universities to be marked after I lodged the dispute,” he said.

In his findings (dated March this year and sent to Konstable – and which are in City Press’s possession) Strydom noted the head of department had made a statement in class that the department was a family business – a claim that gives credence to Konstable’s assertion about close relations between academics.

However, Strydom wrote that appointments in the department were concluded according to the university’s policy.

“Although one member of staff is directly related to the head of department, there is no policy which indicates that relatives cannot work together at the institution.

"There are other examples in this regard as well. The head of department also explained the context in which he made the comment in a joke that ‘this is a family business’.

"He also explained that his wife was not part of the department but helped out with additional classes outside the mainstream.”

“I will strongly advise anybody not to make such statements if it cannot be justified! For me, the relevant principle is not the involvement of family members per se, but to avoid a situation where it may lead to a scenario of potential victimisation,” he concluded.

Strydom also said the rule was that lecturers must be qualified at a level higher than students.

As a result, the university was assisting the lecturer related to the head of department to get the appropriate qualification (such as a master’s degree and above).

The institution’s spokesperson, Daniel Maritz, said students remained the university’s number one priority. The university took any form of harassment and victimisation of students very seriously.

“This is why the grievance of the student in question was investigated. However, in an event the student is still aggrieved, I will welcome direct feedback from the student to allow the university to address and resolve his grievances speedily,” he said

Maritz said the university had a recruitment policy that appointed people on the basis of their qualifications regardless of their backgrounds, creed, race and not by their association with relatives.

He said it was not the university’s policy to expose staff and student unduly to the media.

However, when student or staff chose to discuss their matters through the media, the university would oblige “with sheer respect to bring closure to their matters”.

“To my knowledge, this matter is being handled by the office of the registrar as a compliance officer of the university in order to ensure independence and objectivity in respect of her portfolio within the university as a compliance officer.”

Regarding the marking of the script, Maritz said an external examiner had been identified who was not known to the university or attached to the university whatsoever to mitigate risks associated with conflict of interest.

“I will share more information on this matter once the matter has been concluded.

"We will continue to provide quality teaching and learning environment to our students while maintaining highest academic standards at all times.

"The university has policies that give direction and guidelines in respect of staff recruitment; if the student has evidence showing how such policies have been flouted, he is welcome to come forward the university with such evidence,” he said.

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September 17 2017