26 September 2023 | Story Lacea Loader

The management of the University of the Free State (UFS) is aware of an online call for signatories in support of a letter dated 25 September 2023 to Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Vice-Chancellor and Principal, in which the university allegedly did not act to defend the academic freedom of Dr Pedro Mzileni, Lecturer in the Department of Sociology.
In its response to the guest lecture given by Dr Mzileni to second-year LLB students on 25 July 2023, the UFS stated that it supports academic freedom and freedom of speech, but that it will act if any action by our staff or students speak against the values of the university.

The online call for signatories of the above-mentioned letter has, however, now created the misconception that the UFS did not act swiftly to defend Dr Mzileni’s academic freedom. It should be noted that, when the university receives a formal complaint from whichever entity, it is obliged to investigate such a complaint. Not doing so would be irresponsible. By investigating the alleged incident, the university is in no way impeding Dr Mzileni’s academic freedom.
As an academic institution, the UFS unequivocally supports academic freedom, as it protects the ability of academics to pursue their research and teaching without interference. The university recognises that academic freedom is essential in the pursuit of knowledge, as it allows scholars to search for and discuss diverse and often contentious ideas or solutions, pushing the boundaries of existing knowledge. Similarly, the university supports freedom of speech, as it is a fundamental human right.
However, the matter under investigation is not related to the issue of academic freedom. This is a formal complaint related to allegations of offensive and demeaning references to the dignity of people.

The matter is being dealt with as a Human Resources matter.

It must be noted that Dr Mzileni is continuing with his work as lecturer and has not in any way been prevented from doing so. Dr Mzileni continues to be part of the university’s Emerging Scholar Accelerator Programme – a programme for young academics that provides peer mentoring and support.
The university has further taken note that the investigation into the alleged remarks made by Dr Mzileni on 25 July 2023 is being treated differently than an incident on 14 September 2023 when a student allegedly levelled a racial slur at another student. The university wants to make it clear that there is no inconsistency in the way in which this matter is handled. 

In both instances, the university instituted urgent and formal investigations into the allegations that were made. 

In both instances, there is the presumption of innocence while the investigations are in process.

The university therefore calls for the integrity of these processes to be respected and for investigations of this nature to be afforded the necessary space to be concluded.

Issued  by:
UFS Department of Communication and Marketing

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