Wits professors fired for not disclosing secret affairs with students

19 August 2018 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER
Wits University has banned romantic relationships between staff and students.
Wits University has banned romantic relationships between staff and students.
Image: Gallo Images/City Press/Yandisa Monakali

Wits University has fired two academics for failing to disclose their sexual and romantic relationships with students.

Joseph Seabi, 38, an associate professor in the department of psychology, was dismissed this month.

The educational psychologist was found to have failed to disclose his "special" relationship with a student, who he had helped enrol in a master's programme at the beginning of the year.

The Sunday Times was unable to identify the other Wits academic who was dismissed.

The university banned sexual and romantic relationships between staff and undergraduate and honours students in December 2016. It allows employees to have relationships with students doing master's, doctoral and postdoctoral degrees if the relationships are disclosed.

A survey by the Sunday Times has found that several lecturers at other universities have either been booted out after being found guilty of sexual harassment, or are facing disciplinary hearings.

These include:

• At North-West University, a 52-year-old lecturer was dismissed in November after touching a 20-year-old student inappropriately in his office;

• At the University of Johannesburg, a 42-year-old lecturer's contract was terminated after he asked a student to illustrate something on a white board and then touched her inappropriately;

• At Rhodes University, an academic is in the midst of a disciplinary hearing into an accusation of sexual harassment, and a ruling is expected soon; and

• At the Tshwane University of Technology, an academic has been charged with sexually harassing a student.

This week the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) launched a gender policy statement that addressed the issue of fraternisation between staff and students.

Deputy minister of higher education & training Buti Manamela, who attended the function, said: "The problem of sex for marks is rife and I am glad CPUT has adopted this statement and has taken up the challenge to fight this scourge."

I know sex is exciting and people are going to have relationships
Professor Mzikazi Nduna, head of human & community development in the faculty of humanities

While a handful of universities such as the University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Rhodes, Nelson Mandela University and the University of Pretoria have a policy on staff-student relationships, most other institutions do not.

The Sunday Times understands that Seabi was stopped from supervising the student's research work from May and that a new supervisor was allocated to her. She did not face any action for being in a relationship with him.

Seabi, who has referred his case to the National Education Health & Allied Workers' Union, told the Sunday Times that "many inaccuracies" were circulating but he had been advised not to say anything further.

Professor Mzikazi Nduna, head of the school of human & community development in the faculty of humanities, referred queries about the case to Wits' media department, but said it was painful to lose a young black professor.

"I know sex is exciting and people are going to have relationships," Nduna said.

"If you feel you are two consenting adults, come to the head of school and disclose your relationship. Then I will be able to manage it."

She said some senior staff compromised the academic reputations of younger staff members by having relationships with them.

"There's a charming professor who expresses his love for you," Nduna said. "You could interpret it as a positive thing, yet the very same behaviour can be very compromising to a career because you will be seen as someone who has slept their way up."

Wits spokesperson Buhle Zuma said she could not give details, but "the university can confirm two individuals were asked to leave in recent months for contravening the university's policies".

Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of the Higher Education & Training Health, Wellness & Development Centre - which develops HIV programmes for tertiary institutions - said the issue of lecturers demanding sex for marks was "chronic".

He said: "Such cases are reported very minimally and this could be a contributing factor, as well as the power dynamics between lecturer and student."

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