The Academic & Professional Staff Association (APSA) at the University of South Africa (Unisa) has noted with regret and dismay the recent reports in the press regarding the alleged conduct of some academic employees at Unisa. The clear and unwarranted inference made in the article, that is the article featured in the The Times, is that some Unisa academics have knowingly published in international scholarly journals of dubious standing and repute. The Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences (MJSS) was specifically mentioned. APSA (Unisa) is an independent, autonomous, a-political and registered trade union representing theinterest of academia at Unisa. It is our duty to protect members from ill-informed and malicious attacks, not only from their employer (Unisa), but also the Department of Higher Education and Training (aka DoHET), and the media. The inference is that academics, particularly those at Unisa, have published scholarly articles in the MJSS, whilst supposedly knowing that the refereeing procedures are suspect, claiming that only very few submitted manuscripts for publication have been turned down. Thus the essence of ‘peer review’ has been subverted.It is widely, universally and internationally agreed that the mechanism of peer review is the only viable mechanism to ensure and promote quality in academic publication. This is widely enshrined in many policy statements issued by both DoHET and Unisa. In order to assist academics, and to curb the cost risk to themselves, DoHET periodically issues lists of accredited journals. In the pressure chamber that academics work under, the Capitalist regime led by the ruling elite, academics are remorselessly and strenuously encouraged to publish in accredited journals; both national and international.
The MJSS appears on this list. Unisa, the employer, decided that this journal is not accredited, and in a belligerent, internal communiqué, pronounced a group of academics guilty of abusing the research policy, and condemned them. No process was followed to determine the facts, the academic staff accused as a group was not interviewed, and it was pronounced that no subsidy will be paid for those articles, as various policies clearly and repeatedly state. This implies that the effect of the Unisa’s decision to remove MJSS from its list has been invoked retrospectively, with effect (2013 and 2014). It is persistently rumoured that an additional list of seven (7) or eight (8) journals are currently also under investigation. This is a current and also potential crisis of credibility, misguided policies, poor stewardship, falling standards in tuition outputs, withdrawal of recognition of qualifications, down-grading in international ranking, miscomprehension of academic freedom, wholesale dysfunctionality within institutions, political meddling, cronyism and cadre deployment, and so the list goes on.
In fact, there is no national consensus on the real and appropriate function and priorities to be fulfilled by the higher education sector in the country. In the meantime we are failing our country by expending time and energy targeting compliant academics and students. An additional area of concern remains; why is Unisa the only institution that is currently under attack?
BB Tumi Senokoane
APSA: General Secretary