Max Price Leaves UCT: Who’s Next?

University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice Chancellor (VC) Max Price is leaving: Who’s next?

Not to be confused with the rock album Who’s Next?, “with no discernible theme”, by The Who.

Readers of this piece should first read “UCT’s new VC – The Prequel” on my blog.

The ‘search’

Unlike what had been done for the replaced Registrar and DVCs, rather than search for and appoint a successor to work in transitional-tandem with the ‘old person’, UCT VC Dr Max Price put off looking for a successor. He chose to focus his efforts on a policy of “learning to engage” with fallist-generated chaos, advocated by current Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) Dean Suellen Shay.

When the VC post was eventually advertised, apparently only one potentially appointable person applied. Indeed, Price subsequently acknowledged that applicants “were not lining up” for the job. So, there was a second call which led to the “nomination” of a second, albeit reluctant, appointable applicant.

Nevertheless, both candidates met the criteria specified for the post.

Professor Vivienne Lawack joined the University of the Western Cape in 2015 as Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic. Previously (from 2008), she served as the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law since at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). She joined NMMU after having spent a number of years at the South African Reserve Bank in various capacities (including senior payment system analyst, senior legal consultant and legal consultant) and as the Senior Legal Counsel for Strate Limited, South Africa’s central securities depository. She has no NRF rating.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, before coming to UCT, was Vice Principal: Research and Innovation at the University of South Africa (2011-2016). She came on board at UCT in July 2016 as full professor of Mathematics Education and, in January 2017, became Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Internationalisation. She is a “B” NRF-rated scientist with over 80 research papers and five edited volumes published. She has been invited to deliver many keynote/plenary talks at international conferences, and as a visiting professor in universities, covering five continents.

Apparently, there was no aggressive attempt to ‘head-hunt’ applications from previous contenders profs Jonathan Jansen and Cheryl del la Rey, both of whom served with distinction as VCs during the fallism ‘troubles”. Another strong candidate would have been the highly principled, brilliant, ex-UCT mathematician, Prof Sizwe Mabizela, who has served as Rhodes University’s VC for the last four years.

UCT Community consultation?

Contrary to the search that led to Price’s appointment, the finalists presented their visions for UCT to the ‘Community’ once, at a small venue, attended by a limited number of selected ‘constituency’ representatives. Anyone else interested in the process had to watch it live-streamed online, and were only allowed to submit written questions to the selection committee, hoping that they would be asked and answered.

In any event, the committee (to my mind correctly) recommended the appointment of Prof Phakeng, which was endorsed overwhelmingly by both Senate and Council.

What’s next?

I’m not sure. This is because VC-designate Phakeng has yet to present her “different way going forward”.

Regardless, VC-designate Phakeng has inherited a ‘Pricefull’ UCT declining in international status. Although some disciplines at UCT remain highly QS-ranked, as a whole (hole?), it has dropped by more than 50 places in QS rankings since 2015. Stellenbosch University has jumped by 41.

With Price’s recent formal recognition of the Black Academic Caucus (BAC – unsanctioned by Senate) as a structure that demands amnesty for lawbreaking fallists, representation on committees, and sets ‘race’-related criteria for appointments and promotions, she also must deal with it in the light of UCT’s nearly 70-year resolute commitment to non-racialism. Indeed, xenophobia and ideology also seem to have come into the equation, since posts are being targeted for “black South Africans” with a particular mindset. The BAC is supporting legal action against the appointment of a ”white Argentinean” over a “black South African” for a Deputy VC post, and the long-ago-created created (but unfilled) Archie Mafeje Chair is being targeted for a “black South African” who promotes Critical Theory. I guess this leaves out Africa’s leading decolonialist philosopher/political theorist/ public intellectual, Prof Achille Mbembe, a Cameroonian with his own theories.

Then, there is the ongoing, ‘non-delivering’, arguably racially-discriminatory policy towards undergraduate teaching embodied in CHED, led by the chaos-embracing Dean Shay. As DVC for Research, Prof Phakeng has strongly advocated for comprehensively supporting post-grads. Will she do the same for undergrads?

What about “symbols of racist oppression”? Does Prof Phakeng support the fallist demand for renaming Jameson Hall after colonialist victim ‘Saartje’ Baartman, rather than Verwoerd’s most feared African and perhaps the only untainted liberation hero, non-racialist and Pan-Africanist ‘Prof’ Robert Sobukwe?

Will she emulate Price and support censorship and repression of artistic and academic freedom by re-robing or totally removing the controversial Baartman sculpture without consulting its ‘black’ creator, Willie Bester?

Further still, how will she deal with fallist aggressive, evidence-free demands for the “interrogation of coloniality” and “addressing practices which are experienced as exclusionary by marginalised identities within UCT” in the name of “social justice”? This ‘decolonization’ needs to go beyond access and participation, and cope with the “new generation [who] display a different attitude and behaviours” and “question authority”. (For an example of fallist “attitudes and behaviours”, have a look at the video of the 2016 AGM UCT Convocation. Annotations relating to the video and a full account of the AGM are accessible on my blog, “UCT Convocation Annual General Meeting: December 2016”.)

Will faeces flinging, womxn-assaulting, defamer Chumani Maxwele ever be held accountable for lawbreaking, defamatory and sexist acts dating back to May 2015? Indeed, as recently as 26 February, at a meeting of the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission and its Steering Committee (he belongs to neither), he dominated proceedings and rudely referred to Students Representative Council  President Karabo Khakhau as “this woman”, “who claims to be SRC president”, as “undermining” him, and is only interested in matters for the short term (“she will be gone by October”). Then, he referred to others present who are merely “bored”, “coming from some office somewhere”, “showing their ugly faces” and are, in fact, uninterested in him and “aggrieved” fallist colleagues.

Has Maxwele really been allowed to continue his academic association as a student at UCT after seven years of poor performance?

Yes, Phakeng should talk with students. But, not just pro-Fallists and not just current students. She should consult with all students, past and present, via searching surveys asking well-constructed questions vis-à-vis what’s both right and wrong with structures, policies, curricula et al. at UCT. 

If she emulates Price and ‘negotiates’ only with fallists, what will VC Phakeng do when they break the law when their demands are not met?

Excellence vs context

Finally, there is excellence. Here are some Phakeng quotes:

”The old certainties – good and bad – are unravelling. What we thought we knew, we no longer know. We can be confident only that in the coming decades we will encounter a world of rapid and almost unimaginably profound change. And a question that we might consider is how we, as UCT researchers, could possibly be prepared for the multiple and unforeseeable challenges that await us. My view is that to cope with this uncertain future that we face, we are going to need three things: an unrelenting commitment to excellence, an exceptional focus on transformation and the courage to do things differently.”

A bit scary, but great, so far. But, now comes context.

“[The] truth is that what made us excellent yesterday, is no guarantee that it will make us excellent tomorrow. To continue in our trajectory of excellence requires the keen ability to manage the change and master adaptability.”

“Excellence is not innocent, especially in a country such as ours, with a history of discrimination and oppression. Excellence always has a context.”

“Excellence, when it is too rigidly defined, leaves us valuing certain stories over others, leaves us assimilating instead of reaching towards newer and better ways of being.”

Will she honour Price’s invitation to UCT’s academically eminent Fellows, and convene a workshop to allow them to comment on “decolonization” and what we “really know” vis-à-vis excellence, and in which “context”?

We’ll see.

Prof Tim Crowe

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.

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