Council Bids Farewell to a “Calm and Steadfast” Leader
‘A humble, calm and steadfast leader,’ was how the UKZN Council described the outgoing Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, at a dinner held in his honour in Durban.
The intimate occasion, peppered with discussions about happy memories and light-heated banter, was more of a banquet where old friends rejoiced rather than said sad farewells to a highly respected leader who had earned the admiration and respect of his peers during three years at the helm.
‘Goodbyes are never easy,’ said the Rev Dr Vukile Mehana, UKZN’s Chair of Council. ‘I was just getting to know and understand him better, but there comes a time when you can’t stand in the way of someone’s career.’
Mehana said he had worked well with van Jaarsveld who had better acquainted him with the inner workings of the University.
Van Jaarsveld’s strategic outlook, his focus towards the implementation of the University’s transformation agenda as well as his humble nature were three key components which distinguished his leadership, said Mehana. ‘I always experienced you as a gentleman whatever direction the wind blew in. You were always calm and focused which is important in leadership. Thank you for being a good leader. I can only wish you well,’ he said.
UKZN Central SRC President, Mr Sandile Zondi, said van Jaarsveld resonated with students, helped them and understood the context of the province in which UKZN was situated. ‘We’ve done a lot of bad things to you including causing you to miss your first meeting with the Chancellor but you were never bitter,’ he quipped. ‘You are a man of solutions. You don’t like to deadlock. Other universities are struggling with (students from) quintile 1, 2 and 3 (schools) but we don’t have that problem at UKZN because you helped us deal with it. There was a time when students were struggling with allowances but you never allowed them to go hungry. We thank you Mama van Jaarsveld for lending us your husband. We hope he will in future invest in UKZN once more,’ said Zondi.
Professor Purshottama Reddy, Senior Professor in the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance, said van Jaarsveld joined the University at a time when staff morale and their participation in the University’s academic and governance structures was low. His ‘open, participatory and democratic leadership style,’ however turned the situation around.
Reddy said among legacies van Jaarsveld was leaving behind was ‘a more contented and motivated staff prepared to take the University to even greater heights'.
‘He is a visionary and there aren’t many vice-chancellors and principals that match his stature, especially in South Africa given the challenges we have in Higher Education. Dr van Jaarsveld placed a very high priority on ensuring a well capacitated and contented staff who deliver on the academic mandate of the University. One of his greatest achievements was unifying the University’s conditions of service and more importantly, ensuring that staff received their performance bonuses and (pay) progression. Staff is disappointed that he’s leaving so soon given the good work he’s done. Nevertheless, we wish him all the best in his career move,’ said Reddy.
Looking back on his tenure at UKZN, van Jaarsveld said he had tried, with his full might, to resuscitate and re-profile the University’s value system, emphasising that shifting the culture of the University had been his chief goal. ‘I tried to be fair in that context and apply it without fear or favour. One thing I’ve learned about the University environment is that academics don’t respond well to a commanding and controlled atmosphere where policies are used as a directive and some sort of decree is declared in terms of what’s required.
‘Academic environments in particular are not like companies,’ said van Jaarsveld. ‘They require a different style, namely engaging with staff by using reason and persuasion. We’ll ensure that we keep the University and academic staff on board if we lean on those weapons going forward. Staff are your biggest asset. Look after them. If you create an environment that's encouraging and nurturing, and allows people to explore and develop their own academic careers, everybody thrives. I have full confidence in my executive team. Everyone is dedicated to their job. Trust in them, believe in them and support them. When you do appoint a VC, I hope you get the best possible candidate who will work in the best interest of this University,’ said van Jaarsveld.
Words: Sinegugu Ndlovu
Photographs: Andile Ndlovu