UCT: Who’s running the show?
On 6 November 2016, once again capitulating to fallists, the University of Cape Town’s Executive signed a humiliating agreement of non-violence with them, granting conditional amnesty to the violent lawbreakers amongst their numbers.
For the unversed, High Court judge, eminent law professor and host of the popular current affairs show “Judge for Yourself”, Dennis Davis accurately describes the fallists. They are largely (but not exclusively) university students and academic staff who advocate: the removal of racially offensive symbols, free tertiary education and quality ‘decolonised’ education within similarly de-/re-constructed/dismantled universities.
Sadly, he concludes that the various movements’ modi operandi are not well thought out, are led by “small group[s] of disrupters [some without academic standing] who are bent on violence” and whose:
- “focus has been lost under a different type of protest action”
- “identity politics is regressive” and “is disinterested in how to respond in a radical way to the challenges of globalisation save to hearken back to a form of nostalgia which is not even historically grounded”
- politics “retreats into a particularly dangerous area when the concept of humanity is rejected‚ such as that science belongs to all humanity”
- “idea [s] reject science as a Western construct”, “tak[ing] us back to the Aids denialist era”.
He is particularly scathing of “progressive academics” who, at UCT, are characterized by “a heavy overdose of postmodernism that passes for radical critique” call for a “decentralization of whiteness” and strongly associated with the politically-motivated (still not formally recognized) Black Academic Caucus (BAC) dedicated to the “fight for a new [undefined] university”.
He does not mince his words: “They justify any action by students even when workers‚ who happen to be security guards‚ are badly beaten. Violence‚ intimidation‚ hate speech are met with silence.”
Within this ‘context’ and emanating from the non-violence agreement, the UCT Executive set up a Rapid Response Task Team (RRTT) to facilitate, inter alia, matters relating to the establishment of a Steering Committee (SC) by the non-violence agreement. The SC, by its very structure, will be effectively dominated by fallists and the BAC.
The SC will draw up guidelines for, and populate, an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission whose deliberations could result to a re-invention of UCT, even changing its very founding principles and academic structure through the anomalous, potentially very scary, process of “decolonization”.
Concerned about the credentials of student members of the SC and the sole member to represent the 100000+ UCT I:
- contacted two members of the RRTT, senior (soon-to-depart) DVC Prof. Francis Petersen and newly appointed DVC for Transformation (Prof. Loretta Feris – Vice-Chairperson of the BAC) Price was away in Switzerland attending – for the third consecutive year – the costly and dubiously-UCT-relevant meeting of the World Economic Forum with a bunch of male millionaire businesspeople and politicians. He was noted for stating: “Well, let’s talk about this ourselves, but let the media leave.”
- requested that lawbreakers (amnestied or not) not be allowed to serve on the SC and those that do be required to publish their full curricula vitae outlining academic record, political affiliation, criminal record and, most importantly, a personal vision for UCT vis-à-vis “decolonization”;
- actively campaigned for the sole alumnus post, soliciting (and getting) many nominations from a broad range of alumni, ‘selling’ myself as a defender of merit-based academic excellence, holder of institutional memory and an adaptive (as opposed to solely deconstructivist) ‘decolonist’;
- published a highly critical mini-history of racism-sexism at UCT and a review article on “adaptive” vs “deconstructive decolonization”.
With regard to the selection of an alumnus to sit on the SC, the RRTT chose not to allow alumni to participate in the process democratically, but delegated the decision to the Alumni Advisory Board (AAB), chaired by UCT Council member Dianna Yach, an unswerving supporter of VC Price.
In his reply (12 January 2017) as acting VC, Petersen stated that the Executive’s only restriction on SC student members is that they “all need to be bona fide students”. With regard to the SC’s projected success, he message was: ‘We hope that all the members of the Steering Committee (including the student representatives) will participate in the deliberations of the Steering Committee in a manner that furthers the best interests of the University”. I would have preferred that he used the words “expect” or “require”.
Prof Feris apparently contradicts Petersen, writing (20 January): “These constituencies [Shackville/TRC+SRC] have determined their own procedures and requirements for the selection and appointment of their respective representatives to the Committee and the RRTT did not receive CVs or in most instances names of nominees.” She further indicated that she would not require SC student members to provide the background information I requested.
So, the “students” appear to be able to nominate ANYONE, regardless of their academic/criminal-status/stake-holder-credentials/politics/decolonization-vision, to the SC.
Ms Yach and her AAB took another tack. After agreeing to circulate and read my documents, at their meeting on 12 January, they constrained the nominee review process as follows:
“There was agreement that the nominees should be unifying figures committed to working with diverse stakeholder groups, accustomed to creating a supportive and inclusive environment for constructive engagement and committed to forging a sustainable institutional culture for the future. Additionally it was felt that some prior experience of mediation and conflict resolution would be desirable” and that the nominees “will contribute positively towards UCT’s commitment to forging a new inclusive identify”.
After this culling process, in an announcement that ended decisively with the words “THE END”, the AAB nominated Prof Bulie Magula as the alumni representative and Ms Lorna Houston as the alternate.
Prof Magula is a young alumna deeply involved in HIV/TB treatment/research at UKZN in Durban. Her only published UCT-related credential is a B.Sc. degree. Ms Houston is a disgruntled alumna and former UCT employee (she made this clear at a UCT Convocation meeting in April 2015) blatantly allied to “progressive academics” (see above) who claim to have been “disappeared” at post-liberation-UCT dedicated to the promotion of ‘whites’. She is firmly bent on “decentring whiteness” at UCT.
I’ve e-mailed (18 January) Ms Yach to find out more about the ‘culling process’ used to filter the nominees and to substantiate how Prof Magula and Ms Houston filtered through as “unifying figures”. She replied within an hour saying: “I will respond when I have time.” A couple of hours later, she sent me a one-liner refer me to the “Marshmallow Experiment”.
I replied immediately: “I [and the “silenced majority” stakeholders at UCT] am not a child that can be appeased with sweets”, following this with a lengthy history underpinning my query to her as a distinguished alumna of UCT and an appointed official.
I’ve heard nothing since.
Prof Feris informed me (20 January) that she cannot provide a full list of the SC nominees, let alone information on their suitability as “unifying figures”, because the relevant admin people are “on leave and we are currently under capacitated”.
In any event, the SC meets in a couple of days. Where? When? Under whose chairpersonship (if any)? With what agenda?
VC Price should be there, just before he goes on leave for a month, leaving the SC “under capacitated”?
I guess he and the rest of the UCT Community must join ex-DVC Petersen and live in “hope”.
Author: 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.