Stellenbosch University
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Update on Admissions Policy and the Rector’s Discretionary Placement
Author: Stellenbosch University / Universiteit Stellenbosch
Published: 01/07/2023

​​​​The Council of Stellenbosch University (SU) met today (1 July) to discuss both: the Report from the Lewis Committee appointed by Council to investigate allegations of nepotism by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers in placing relatives of his wife; and the Motion proposed to dismiss the Rector in terms of section 42(3) of the SU Statute*.

The Lewis Committee found that

  • There was no serious misconduct (in terms of section 42(3) of the SU Statute) by the Rector warranting removal from office. When exercising his Rector's Discretionary Placement (RDP), he did not breach a rule or policy of the University and did not act dishonestly in making the discretionary placements such as to lead to a breakdown of trust between SU and the Rector, rendering his continued employment intolerable
  • On rules and policies: neither the nepotism nor the conflict of interest policies applied to the RDPs. The RDP guidelines themselves provide the Rector a wide discretion in placements
  • On allegations of dishonesty: the Rector disclosed his relationship to the two candidates to a senior colleague before allocating places to them and was advised that, because of his wide discretion, he could make the placements.  There is no proof, even on a balance of probabilities, that the Rector acted dishonestly – with an intent to deceive or falsely represent a position
  • The Rector's failure to perceive that any discretionary placement to a relative would, or could, lead to favouritism was a regrettable error of judgement and showed a lack of ethical insight
  • The placement of the two nephews and the Rector's handling of both the placement and of the attention that followed this, has dented the trust of his colleagues and the Rector has acknowledged that he needs to work to restore this.

At Council, the Rector

  • Recognised the impact of his decisions to allocate the two discretionary placements to relatives of his wife and assumed full responsibility for the errors made
  • Apologised that, even though he may have been permitted to make these allocations under the RDP guidelines, it was an error of judgement to fail to recognise the ethical implications of such a decision, the perception this would cause and the impact this would have on SU, management and the many stakeholders concerned
  • Apologised for: the distress caused to the people affected; and the fact that the issue has caused the reputation of SU to be adversely impacted
  • Noted that the work to review the placement policies had already started
  • Reflected his deep commitment to assist in the healing process.

After extensive discussion, Council decided that

  • There was no serious misconduct warranting the Rector's removal from office or the adoption of a Motion in terms of section 42(3). Council voted on and unanimously rejected the Motion
  • It was however a regrettable error of judgement for the Rector to place two relatives using the RDP without realising the ethical implications of this
  • The apology tendered by Rector during the Council meeting be made public
  • The Chair and Vice Chair of Council should consider the outcome of this Council meeting and an appropriate financial consequence in settling the review of the Rector's 2022 performance
  • The process of reviewing the RDP guidelines, Conflict of Interest policy, the Nepotism policy and related policies should be accelerated so that all stakeholders have clarity as to how both academic and residential discretionary placements will be handled in future. Until the review is completed, no new discretionary academic or residential placements should occur
  • The Rector is encouraged to take on board the Lewis Committee recommendations to strengthen the Rectorate and to review the University's policies to determine their efficacy and application and to achieve consistency and fairness.

Nicky Newton-King, the Chair of Council, said, “As a University community, we welcome the opportunity for scrutiny and reflection.

“Council has devoted considerable time and effort in investigating the allegations in a thorough and independent process and has discussed the outcome of the investigation robustly. Council accepted and appreciated the Rector's unconditional apology for his error of judgement and the impact this has had on the institution and all the people involved. Both the Rector and the University have learnt valuable lessons in the process.

“Council has confidence in the Rector and his team and that this regrettable episode will not be repeated. We re-emphasise our commitment to the mammoth task of positioning SU as a multilingual world class African research intensive University in service of society."

Editors notes:

*Section 42(3) of the SU Statute – “The Council may dismiss the rector from office by a two thirds majority vote of all the members of the Council on the grounds of a serious violation of the law, serious misconduct, or incapacity due to poor work performance or ill health or injury."​

Click here to access the Lewis Report