The Unbearable Lightness of Sensibility over Sense
Dr. Max Price, Vice-Chancellor of UCT, has issued a letter to colleagues and students, “dealing specifically with our record of transformation in 2015 and marking the anniversary of the start of the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) protests.”
This article can’t canvass every issue - only the most perturbing and bizarre. Excerpts are italicised and bold. The full text can be found here.
Efforts by UCT have been ongoing for many years, but 2015 saw a marked acceleration due to – the RMF campaign, the Black Academic Caucus, the SRC, Faculty Student Councils, Patriarchy Must Fall and LGBTQIA lobbies, the UCT Left Students Forum, staff unions etc.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “LGBTQIA” stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual communities. Transgenders do not identify their actual gender as being the same as their biological gender. Queers adopt identities that reject traditional gender identities of male and female, and seek a broader, less conformist, and deliberately ambiguous alternative to the label
Transformation includes employment equity programmes, creating forums for views not usually voiced, addressing the dominance on campus of the symbols that reflect a particular, white or colonial, heritage, student access, gender and sexual harassment issues, curriculum reform and insourcing.
Faculties held “faculty assemblies” intended to open safe spaces, especially for black students, to talk about how they experienced the institution.
In 2014 enrolment comprised 11,597 blacks and 8,093 whites. The rest were 1,993 other (East Asian origin?) and 4,674 internationals.
So of 19,690 black and white students, 59% were black in 2014. Presumably the percentage of black students in 2015 were greater than 2014, and in 2016 greater still. Black students are increasingly in the majority. Do
A concern that was articulated was the risk of stigmatisation associated with academic development programmes.
Some faculties and departments have decided to advertise positions indicating that the post should “preferably be filled by a black South African”.
UCT has increased the allocation from the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund for “equity posts” - to provide opportunities to make appointments of equity candidates even when there may not be a vacancy.
The change in profile of the professoriate remains its toughest challenge apparently.
A task team, including student members, was appointed by Council to review the names of buildings. Largely because of the unavailability of student members from the mid-October study break until the start of this semester, this committee has made limited progress. However, the team has completed an audit of .
Another task team, including … SRC members, was appointed to consider how to manage the university’s portraits, plaques and sculptures in response to the impression being created by the collective works on display that UCT is not inclusive. The task team will consult widely to identify other works of art that are considered offensive.
The graduation ceremony of December 2015 was modified as a pilot. The musical items were changed. “Gaudeamus, igitur” and other items were replaced by South African music and a praise singer was included in the programme. Further work will be done on reimagining graduation ceremonies.
There is nothing
Some lecturers have created classroom discussions unrelated to their disciplines to encourage students to talk about how they experience the university and their colleagues.
Are these discussions held
“As the executive, we have …even accepted disruption at public events and lectures…, in the interests of promoting a constructive engagement with all groups. We will continue to do this provided the engagement is lawful, peaceful and respectful.” (Our underlining).
We have in the meantime acknowledged the need to move away from the assumption of binary (female/male) gender classification and we recognise the right of individuals to self-classify their gender. We have implemented a third option for gender identification on student application forms.
The HIV/AIDS Inclusivity & Change Unit (HAICU) has facilitated workshops on educating and sensitising new and returning students to issues of gender-based violence, patriarchy, sexual orientation, HIV, human rights and social justice. These workshops allow students an opportunity to critically examine how we speak and the traditions in residences around songs, practices and pub cultures. In this way they help to create an inclusive environment.
William Pitt the younger, the youngest British minister ever said: “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
The words “educating and sensitising” are not reassuring. They sound soft and fuzzy but are laden with imposition and thought-control. The menacing echo of the Cultural Revolution can be heard.
There is an inherent tyranny in determining how people conduct their social lives and practices. An individual may not expect to feel comfortable at, say, a Rugby Club, Hip Hop Club or Black Management Forum event. But all those clubs are entitled to do whatever they do as long as they do no harm. If a student expects to be uncomfortable, stay home with a good book!
It is simpler and more commonsensical for the individual student to avoid his or her own discomfort; rather than expect the institution to do it for you.
Perhaps one of the most significant transformation interventions in 2015 was the decision to insource the workers and services currently provided by six contracting companies (security, catering, two cleaning services, gardening and the UCT transport service, the Jammie Shuttle). Can we take credit for this? Probably not, in the sense that management and Council had resisted this even up until October in view of the impact of insourcing on our cost structure, among other things. (Our underlining)
UCT had put in place measures with which the contracting employers were required to comply – minimum wages, job security and oversight of employment practices. The moral and social justice case for insourcing and its impact on reducing income inequality was well understood.
The pressure from students and workers when insourcing became part of the national shut-down campaign tilted the balance for us in weighing up the costs and benefits. However, the decision was not just a careful calculation of costs and benefits, it was also a profound and conscious step along the transformation path and a commitment to social justice. (Our underlining)
So, management buckled. Despite the impression of outsourcing as Satan’s work, as the nature of work is changing globally. Globally outsourcing is an ever increasing way of employing people and services. Outsourcing is recognised by the International Labour Organisation and in South African
Following the removal of the Rhodes statue, UCT created a Transformation Dialogue Forum, including students (SRC, Student Assembly and RMF), academics, deans and heads of department, PASS staff, the Black Academic Caucus, the IF, trade unions and management. The forum has struggled to get going, but is expected to review UCT’s new strategic and transformation plan in the next month.
The major focus in the plan is how transformation impacts on teaching and learning, curricula, academic support programmes and the research agendas.
With regard to LGBTQIA issues, we will increase the number of gender-neutral toilets and relook at our administration systems, public statements and positions, and the possibility of targeted awareness campaigns within residences.
We will seek private and public funding to build at least one more residence.
2015 was a challenging but exciting year in UCT’s trajectory of transformation, signalling a decisive break with the past. 2016 will see these transformation programmes gain further momentum in creating a new identity for UCT.
“serious deficit budget scenario”.
Price said that: “Austerity measures will be implemented between now and 2018.”… “The funding of higher education nationally had become a challenge.” Government subsidies have increased below inflation and UCT’s cost increases, which “was largely due to our growing salary budget that amounted to a 20% smaller budget over five years”.
“In the past, we compensated for some of this decline through fee increases that were well above inflation. But there remained an annual shortfall, and with fees in the future unlikely to increase at the rates they did in the past, this deficit will grow if we do not tackle it now.”
Price said that because most of the R2,6 billion budget went towards staffing, 80% of savings “need to be made on the staffing bill”.
“We will, wherever possible, rely on natural attrition – retirements, resignations or incentivised retirements, and stopping of non-essential activities.
“This might not always be possible and where it becomes necessary to restructure to achieve efficiency and meaningful savings, we will follow due human resources process in consultation with the unions.”
How on earth is Price going to make such significant savings in staff salaries if UCT offers people posts that don’t exist in order to fill positions that aren’t needed?
Does Price understand that the circle of the need to cut costs, while implementing all these transformational promises, cannot possibly be squared?
“… we need to tackle this challenge as a collective and not allow the austerity interventions to create internal divisions.”
In this one has to wish Price luck. If quality teaching is sacrificed on the altar of promoting employment equity, UCT’s status in the world ranking of universities has to fall.
Have the vanguard of protest considered their demands relative to an interest rate of 7,25%; an exchange rate that has been eviscerated with the assistance of a corrupt president; the real likelihood of ratings agencies’ downgrading South Africa to junk status that will eviscerate investment, a crippling; drought and the millions of people with real problems?
But be careful what you wish for. The Centre for African Studies Gallery set up an exhibition entitled Echoing Voices from Within to “commemorate” the first anniversary of the formation of RMF “conceptualised primarily as ‘a moment of reflection’ and commemoration of a movement that impacted significantly on UCT and potentially other universities forever.”
Well, CAS got a lot more reflection than it bargained for!
“What had originally been conceptualised as a ‘contained’ canvas of the four walls and parking area of CAS became a real living, moving and still evolving canvas and platform for contestation and debate with the staging of a protest by the Trans Collective. The collective protested … by walking through the crowd into the gallery to lie down naked during the opening address…. Members of the collective then addressed the crowd about their concerns. CAS staff members engaged with the Trans Collective to allow the space to be used for its ultimate purpose: as a place of debate and contestation of narratives.”
To translate: the movement which perfected disruptive protest had an event disrupted. Trans Gender club members lay naked on the floor whingeing.
CAS Gallery assures us that it will continue to provide a platform for them as a place “of debate and contestation for narratives…To this end CAS will continue to provide a platform where these debates can be promoted and cherished.”
What a relief! Imagine the sight of security officials or police manhandling naked, non-heteronormative people! (Trans Gender’s statement here.) A university’s reputation is derived from its past students. Likewise important funding, both direct and indirect, comes as a result of the reputation and achievements of those past students. (List of alumni here.)
A university needs to nourish diversity, not just of colour but of views and opinions. Conformity will lead to totalitarianism whether it expressed as fascism, communism, anti-racism or transgenderism. The tone of Price’s letter suggests capitulation, not genuine transformation.
Much of what is excellent about UCT is neither white nor black: it is universal. UCT must interrogate whether the demands being made are to remove “whiteness” or universally accepted practices and ideas that have no colour or gender.
South African blacks have suffered grievously in the past but they do not have the monopoly on pain. Black students must also understand and accept that others too have suffered, learn from their experience and genuinely converse with people who are not black or are not South African.
The transformational agenda appears to guarantee one thing: a polarisation between groups and the graduation of black students as arch-racists. The architects of Apartheid would be truly amazed at who the real heirs of their noxious philosophy are.
Professor Jonathan Jansen, rector of the University of the Free State, says in his book We Need to Talk (Bookstorm and Pan Macmillan South Africa 2011 at page 6):
“And that is why I have said over and over again that the only way out of this mess is together; yet the terms of engagement at the moment assume that the moral high ground belongs to the pure, unadulterated black victim laying material and symbolic claim and control over the impure, adulterated white perpetrator. That is a recipe for mutual annihilation of co-habitants of a common space, of mutual burden-bearers of an intertwined trauma.”
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.