The UCT AA held its delayed (by lawbreaking Fallists) AGM on the Ides of March (15 March), the date on which Julius Caesar was murdered by conspirators, many of whom benefitted from his clemency.

From its genesis, alumni argued that the AGM’s chairperson unilaterally violated the AA’s Constitution, giving notice of the meeting eight days (rather than one month) before it was held and adjusting the cut-off for submission of motions to two days (rather than 21) days before the meeting. This resulted in the addition of two motions (revised from those submitted too late for the AGM of UCT’s Convocation). These were only listed in the ‘reminder’ notice issued on the day before the AGM. I did not receive this ‘reminder’. When it was forwarded by a concerned overseas alumnus (parent of two current UCT students) disturbed by a new motion, I reversed my decision not to attend.

Perhaps because of its late notice, the AGM was poorly attended, barely exceeding the quorum of 40.

In any event, the meeting was peaceful, perhaps due the chairperson’s impassioned introductory remarks emphasizing the need for civility.

The first item was a RESOLUTION TO RECONSTITUTE THE ALUMNI ADVISORY BOARD (AAB).  The key changes involve creating a large management body, the “General Council/General Assembly”, which would be dominated by eight additional members (versus three elected by the AA) from “affinity/chapters/interest groups” or “volunteers of note”. Just how these “affinity/interested/volunteers” might be elected or co-opted was unspecified. Also, the reconstituted AAB would revert to an “executing body”.

After discussion, the proposal was deferred for revision/clarification. Alumni concerns were that implementing the resolution could lead to the AA being controlled by “affinity/interest” groups not representative of the full diversity of alumni opinion. Indeed, the AAB’s choice of the AA representatives on the Steering Committee of the Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (SC IRTC) was strongly influenced by a recommendation of one such “affinity group”, the UCT Association of Black Alumni.

This decision has increased the influence of such groups (e.g. the Black Academic Caucus and Shackville/TRC) within the SC IRTC whose recommendations could result in the radical “decolonization” of UCT. Furthermore, a complaint from a chairperson of one ‘chapter’ led to a motion of censure of a member of UCT’s Council, simply because he/she had strongly criticized Fallism.

Then an AA representative on the SC IRTC reported on its progress to date. Since the report summarized feedback already received by the UCT Community, I will not repeat it here. However, the presenter’s title slide REPORT ON THE STEERING COMMITTEE OF THE IRTC / SHACKVILLE TRC was disturbing because it seemingly places one of the SC’s ‘affinity’ groups as co-equal to the SC.

The first motion called for the UCT Executive to consult proactively with alumni, echoing (more ‘politely’) my motion initially blocked and ultimately rejected (on technicalities and defamation) by the UCT Convocation. It was not considered because the ‘motioner’ failed to attend the AGM.

The second and third motions called for regular review of the AA Constitution and investigation of its mis-application. After discussion focusing on the existing provision for review/investigation, they were withdrawn.

The fourth motion was based on premises that criticisms of UCT’s Executive in social media were “rhetorical abuse from both sides aimed personally at denigrating VC Max Price” and that ”key decisions and choices were not made by one man, but were considered by a team of veteran UCT leaders”, and are “collective [in] nature”.  It called for a condemnation of this objectionable criticism and an affirmation of collective accountability for executive decisions.

The discussion challenged the blanket application of the premises. Certainly some (many?) of the commentaries on published criticisms were undisputed “rhetoric” and “denigrations” of Price, but, in general, not the published articles. With regard to Price’s personal vs collective responsibility, the VC post’s description indicates that: ”The Vice-Chancellor is accountable to Council for the leadership of the university as a whole, and for determining the university’s strategic goals, and ensuring their implementation.” No mention is made of “collective” leadership/accountability.

In the end, without voting, those still present (by then <40) called for rational debate at UCT and condemned ad hominem attack, in any form.

The fifth motion was difficult to interpret. So, I’ll present it in full:

We propose that UCT Council endorses a decision that there will be no further financial exclusions at the University of Cape Town based on bullet points 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 reproduced in footnote one.

The UCT Senior Management Team ensures that all persons who violate the clauses below regarding offensive behaviour (bullets 3, 4, 5 in particular) are held accountable and face consequences for their actions.

We commend the Vice Chancellor, his team and the student leadership for having the courage to start processes of conflict resolution and peacebuilding which extends itself to the UCT community.

UCT Statute Oct 2013: [presumably the “footnote”]

Accordingly, we undertake collectively and individually

  • to promote and protect academic freedom;

  • to oppose and take steps to prevent racial, gender or other forms of unfair discrimination, harassment, violence or abuse;

  • to actively promote social justice and equity;

  • to nurture a culture of learning, which is supportive of students, scholars and teachers;

  • to refrain from speech or conduct that demeans or humiliates others;

  • to encourage our members to enjoy life; to laugh, to love, to appreciate and take full advantage of the wealth of opportunities available to us in academic endeavour, in making friends, and in social, cultural and sporting activity;

  • to advance the principle of open governance and to be fully accountable for our actions, decisions, and the stewardship of the University’s resources and mission; and

  • to nurture and empower our members.

Several alumni and VC Price could not support the “financial exclusions” part of the motion, because it failed to discriminate between students on the basis of ability to pay, academic performance and involvement with lawbreaking protests. The latter mentioned will also be dealt with by the SC IRTC.

There was confusion vis-à-vis the “offensive behaviour” part of the motion. Does it apply to lawbreaking protesters (who will be dealt with by the SC IRTC) or only to individuals who commit even “micro-aggressive” racist acts?

No one seemed to disagree with the “courage” part of the motion.

In the end, there was no vote on the motion.

There were fewer than 30 attendees by the time that motion 6 was presented/discussed.

It called for “support for the [current] Student Representative Council (SRC) by the UCT Alumni, celebrating the positive impact that they have had during very difficult times”.

The ‘motioner’ offered the following evidence:

The Students Representative Council Assistance Fund awarded grants to 89 students whose education would have otherwise ended. It set a record for fundraising, seven times what had been raised in previous years.

It held +-1000 “one-on-one” meetings assisting and advising students.

It held campaigns on sexual harassment and assault, student workshops and forums on decolonization and re-engineered policies and practices throughout the Department of Student Affairs.

This service was delivered despite the facts that:

  1. of 17 SRC members elected to serve, only six completed their term in office and four remained with the SRC in an extended term.

  2. they have been harassed/taunted/insulted by a host of tormenters and the social media.

  3. the SRC Offices in the Steve Biko Building were invaded, occupied, vandalized and looted by protesters in October 2016 and still are inaccessible.

When the chairperson called for a vote (by hand), a majority supported the motion.  However, after an impassioned objection by an alumnus, a paper ballot reversed this.  So, emotion rules.

Professor Tim Crowe is a descendant of oppressed Irish freedom-fighters from the United States working class. He is a first generation university graduate, non-settler immigrant alumnus, Elected Fellow and emeritus (40 years’ service) professor at the University of Cape Town. He is a Ph.D.-educated expert on evolutionary biology (covering everything from ‘race’ to deeply rooted evolutionary trees) and conservation biology (especially regarding sustainable and economically viable use of wildlife). He has published nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers/books and is regarded as the world’s leading authority on game birds (chickens, turkeys, guinea fowls, etc.). About 70 of his graduated students have published their research and established themselves in their own right, including four professors.