A standoff involving Mr Rajiv Ruparelia, son of Victoria University owner Sudhir Ruparelia, and the academic hierarchy, yesterday hit the peak when the university council announced the dismissal of the top academic managers.
Those fired include Dr Francis Waiswa, who was the acting vice chancellor and dean of Business and Management.
The under-fire academics had since Tuesday been on strike following disagreements with Mr Rajiv regarding the running of the university.
“The acting vice chancellor, deans and heads of department resolved not to report for work effective November 1, 2016. Consequently, they have breached their contract of employment and constructively dismissed themselves from the university service,” wrote Dr David Byatike Matovu, the chairman of the university’s governing council.
One of the fired deans, speaking to Daily Monitor on condition of anonymity, accused Mr Rajiv of “taking over” the day-to-day running of the university, which he said contravenes the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, the law that governs universities.
Talking to Daily Monitor by telephone yesterday, Mr Rajiv confirmed he had fired the university’s academic staff.
“I am firing all my deans and heads of department,” he said and added that he had already informed the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), which oversees the running of universities, about the dismissal.
We could not independently verify his claim of briefing NCHE.
Genesis of the matter
Trouble started when Mr Rajiv issued guidelines requiring all university employees to clock in and out of the university premises as a way of ensuring that each of them worked the number of hours stipulated in their contracts. In case one failed to work the stipulated hours, the culprit would suffer financial penalties.
The order also indicated that should a university dean or head of department have to leave the university during working hours, they would have to sign in a book indicating the purpose of their trip and who they intended to meet with. Mr Rajiv argued that all this was according to the employment contracts the deans and heads of department signed.
Apart from objecting to these rules, the deans and heads of department also argued that Mr Rajiv, being the promoter of the university, was not the right person to issue such directives, arguing that was the job of the university council.
The fired deans we spoke to said they had raised the issue with the university council chairman Dr Matovu, who they said promised, on a number of occasions, to discuss the matter with Mr Rajiv for a solution. When the deans and heads of department eventually lost hope that Dr Matovu would ever resolve the issue, they went on strike.
Dr Matovu declined to comment on the matter, saying he was travelling out of town and was unable to speak on the issue.
Asked to respond to accusations that he was bypassing the university council and issuing instructions to staff, which the deans and heads of department say contravenes the rules, Mr Rajiv flatly said: “The council works for me.”
He said in issuing the instructions that caused the standoff, he had received complaints from students that the deans and heads of department were not doing their work well. He declined to reveal the complaint he said the students had raised to him. He said he would issue a statement today.
“I will not allow my deans to run the university as they want,” Mr Rajiv continued, “the most important people in the university are the students. If the students have written a formal complaint that the deans are not doing their jobs right, what am I to do?”
Mr Rajiv said the academics had not followed the procedures for industrial action, which he said include serving their employer notice of intention to strike. For that reason, he said, “they breached their employment contracts.”
He said the academics had brought up their concerns before the University Council, but that what they did was “just a raise of concern and not a notice of intention to take industrial action.”
Asked whether the university was not at risk of being sued for alleged wrongful dismissal of staff, Mr Rajiv said: “In fact taking us to court would be a good thing because it will give us an opportunity for a judge to pronounce himself on the matter.”
Mr Rajiv has in recent weeks been actively defending the Ruparelia business empire, especially the under-fire Crane Bank, with his father largely remaining quiet.
Some of those fired
The communication from the university did not say how many academics were affected, but we understand that among those fired are Dr Patience Muwanguzi, dean of Public Health; Mr Maximus Byamukama, dean of Faculty of Science and Technology; and Dr Martha Kibuuka-Musoke, dean of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr Drake Kyalimpa, who headed the Oil and Gas department, was also fired.