'UCT's troubles': A reply

Elijah Moholola says William Gild's article was polemical and exaggerated

Re: UCT’s troubles continue

William Gild (“UCT’s troubles continue”) has written a criticism of the University of Cape Town that is polemical, exaggerated and reflects a basic lack of understanding of the various situations and points of conflict the leaders of the institution have had to deal with.

For instance, Mr Gild cites, as an example of alleged “failure’ on the university’s part, the “total cessation of food services at all residences, for at least two weeks”. In the first place, students in residences were provided with food vouchers and did not go hungry during that time. In the second place, the decision to halt catering in the residences was taken by leadership as an economic strategy in light of the threat of disruption by protesters. If we had ordered in food that could not be cooked and served, it would spoil and go to waste, and we would run the risk that the students would not be fed on time. By issuing vouchers, UCT ensured the students were fed at no wasted expense to the university.

Mr Gild’s criticism of the negotiations between university leadership and protesters reflects a similar lack of understanding of the situations UCT was dealing with. He appears to assume that “negotiation” is conceding to protesters’ demands. This is not true; while the door has been kept open to protesters for discussion, the executive has been firm on matters of unlawful behaviour. The communications sent out to the campus community bear this out. Negotiating with protesters provides a way to seek possible solutions to a dispute in a peaceful manner; it involves no cost but time. This can benefit the university, for instance by pointing to the need for improved services for mental health.

Mr Gild alleges that UCT had an “incomplete” academic year in 2017. Yet the university completed a successful round of 35 final exam sessions, with 61 186 total exam sittings. Holding exams in a tent on the rugby field ensured that all exams took place without disruption. No exams were cancelled.  The only exams where dates were moved is one exam for the Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting and two exams for the Postgraduate Diploma in Public Sector Accounting, which were scheduled to take place before the main exams.

While some classes were disrupted in November, faculties were able to shift to other methods of teaching. Disruptions over two weeks did not nullify the work that was completed over the rest of the full academic year.

Mr Gild asserts that “UCT, alone among all the major South African universities, continues to fail” – yet he provides no factual proof of failure. In fact, UCT continues to lead in its core functions of teaching, learning and research. The university has the highest number of SARChI Chairs, for example; the highest number of researchers rated by the National Research Foundation (including 39 A-rated researchers, who are considered leaders in their respective fields); and in 2016 UCT’s publication output reached a record high. Citations, which measure the how often UCT research is quoted by other scientists, were also at a high in 2016.

Elijah Moholola is Manager: Media Liaison and Social Media, Communication and Marketing Department, University of Cape Town