UCT: Truth or Dare?

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Jammie Hall, University of Cape Town UCT, Fallism, fascism
Jammie Hall, University of Cape Town

To: The Vice Chancellor and Chairperson of the Senate, Chairperson of its Council and Senate and Alumni Representatives on the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission Steering Committee

Context

I am a UCT alumnus, spouse/father of alumna, long-serving (40 years) researcher/educator/ administrator (206 peer-reviewed publications; 59 post-grads – > 95% with successful careers: 14 women, 12 ‘blacks’; NRF B rated; h-index = 24), emeritus professor and Life Fellow who has investigated (affected and experienced) UCT’s history. In this ‘context’, I wish to express my grave concern that the image of UCT’s past AND present has been, and continues to be, deliberately distorted by some to portray ‘Her’ as institutionally “racist”, “violent” and even collectively colluding with the Apartheid Regime. The goal of this revisionary historicity is to ‘justify’ Her destructive ‘decolonization’.

‘Evidence’

This defamatory misinformation is epitomized in Keith Gottschalk’s comments on VC JP Duminy given during a UCT-sponsored lecture series. He described Duminy as an experientially-less-than-stellar, “reactionary aberration”, “authoritarian principal” who colluded with the Regime, assisted by a Liaison Officer who was an Apartheid agent. His gross misrepresentations are, at best, poorly substantiated, and are countered/refuted in the attached piece on VC Duminy.

Worse still is the highly controversial, non-consultative Alumni Framework which was never discussed/debated at a meeting of the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) Steering Committee (SC). It was mooted late at an IRTC-SC working group held to discuss Terms of Reference (ToR) for IRTC Commissioners. An IRTC-SC-Alumni-Rep./UCT-Convocation-President proposed that the Framework be included in the ToR. The Framework asserts, without substantive evidence, that there has been “recurring invisible violence and racism perpetrated by [unnamed] individuals” “at an institutionally UCT racist since 1829”. It claims that invisible “cultural violence” “triggered” the [Fallist] students’ protest” that “led to [unwarranted] criminal charges”. Moreover, it “justifies and legitimizes” “destructive forms” of violence by Fallists. The Framework is formally supported by 63 signatories. Contrary to their brief, IRTC-SC representatives did NOT circulate the Framework broadly to the alumni for comment/debate/discussion. At the working group, VC Price opposed its recognition as an IRTC-sanctioned document, characterizing it as “not honest”. His view was overruled and the Framework was released and  described by  the Chair of the IRTC steering committee (and Chair of UCT Council)” as a “relevant document”.

Then there is the Curriculum Change Working Group’s Framework. The CCWG is an ad hoc entity created by VC Price led by pro-Fallist “black” academics and students embracing a black consciousness around coloniality. Its goal was to “facilitate dialogue across the university” “in order to shape strategies for meaningful curriculum change”. It did not deliver. It was developed largely from input from a sub-sampling of  three sectors of UCT. It offers no “strategies” or “pathways” for meaningful curriculum change. Instead, it calls for open “resistance”, “disruption” and disobedience of the undefined discriminatory “colonial” “project”, “epistemology”, “tropes”, “civilizing mission”, “gaze of comparison”, “authority”, “orientation”, “lies” and “rules” – achieved through the exposure/eradication of unidentified “colonial lies embedded in disciplines”. “Central in resisting coloniality is defying [using a “decolonial lens”] colonial authority in what constitutes knowledge, how it is produced, and who is allowed to claim custodianship”. It is “especially difficult to challenge authority in the sciences.”

I find proposals to delineate “what constitutes knowledge, how it is produced, and who is allowed to claim [its] custodianship” very scary.

The CCWG Framework’s only substantive conclusion is that there is an urgent need to “forge a new identity for UCT that regards [undelimited] Africans as legitimate knowers and producers of knowledge, but also central to the academic project”. “Previously disregarded texts should become core reading material for students, that people from marginalized communities should become drivers of research”, and that “colonial lies embedded in disciplines, must be exposed and disrupted”. No “disregarded texts” are mentioned. No “embedded colonial lies” or discipline-linked liars are exposed, let alone discussed, debated or refuted.

Then there are comments at a graduation by a DVC admitting “UCT’s complicity in denying many past students and staff full and dignified participation in the life of the university”.

Then came anti-Apartheid warrior Denis Goldberg – an undergrad at UCT during early 1950s – the exhilaratingly progressive TB Davie Era. He was deservedly awarded an honorary doctorate by UCT. However, in the “reflection” of his lived-experience at UCT, he maintained that, “not one black student studied at the so-called open university”. In fact, in 1955 (the year he graduated) there were 311 black students registered at UCT (more than double the number when Davie took office). Furthermore, although Goldberg admits that “a lot has changed in South Africa” he made no reference to the profound constructive transformation at UCT during the ‘reigns’ of VCs Davies, Luyt,  Saunders and Ramphele.

‘Evaluation of evidence’

Much of the defamatory evidence in the ‘Frameworks’ et al. formed the “starting point of [the IRTC Commissioners’] rather sensitive and multifaceted inquiry “. It features prominently as ‘givens’ in the IRTC Final Report. The Report, based largely on “80 submissions” from law-breaking Fallists and an arguably non-representative selection of students and staff members recommended, on the basis of arguably questionable “restorative justice“, granting unconditional amnesty to all admitted and multiple lawbreaking Fallists. It offers no comments on what constitutes “invisible racism” or what constitutes unacceptable and/or actionable Fallist protest in the future. With regard to ‘decolonization’, it merely recommended that: “The university enters the debate on decolonisation at the university in accordance with the modality as developed and agreed to by the academic and student community” and that the “departments of History, Political Science and Psychology might be involved in this process”.

There was no direct input from the Curriculum Change Working Group in the IRTC Report. As for me, there was only one [of my many (>20) submissions to the IRTC and >100 pieces published in my blog site, Rational Standard, Politicsweb and BizNews] submission of mine (on p. 35). It is given short shrift as “a back-handed acknowledgement of the existence of racism” at UCT and is cited as coming from “Crow, Timothy” –  perpetuating my Fallist defamatory label– “Jim Crow”.

The Frameworks and IRTC Report ‘hit the fan’

The IRTC Report, Frameworks and various defamatory ‘comments’ on UCT engendered a “damning” international characterization of UCT in Nature – the world’s leading scientific journal.

In short, Nature portrays UCT as “rife” with “entrenched racism” that involves “unjust discrimination, domination or violence” and “systematic suppression of black excellence in recent years”, with “better qualified black academics being passed over for employment and promotion in favour of white academics”. No mention is made of a scholarly publication [co-authored by VC Price and Prof. Robert Morrell – head of UCT’s Next Generation Professoriate Programme)] that concludes that UCT does NOT have a biased promotion system and does NOT systemically discriminate against “black and female staff”.

Furthermore, this racism/dominance/violence was “abetted by poor management systems” which “discriminate on a racial basis”. This assessment was endorsed by the Chairperson of the Black Academic Caucus (BAC – see here, here, here): “institutional racism at UCT is practically the norm”. “UCT [needs to] reform recruitment processes to make them more transparent and inclusive, and that its policies addressing discrimination such as racism and sexism be effectively and adequately implemented.” The article also mentioned comments from “four UCT academics [who] said that [the ‘evidence’ presented] threatens academic freedom and that if the framework became policy, it might dismiss curricula informed by humankind’s most reliable methods of evidence-gathering and investigation [misrepresented] as colonial ideology”. The BAC chairperson dismissed these concerns as “knee-jerk responses from people worried about semantics”.

‘Responses’ from the UCT leadership

So far, UCT’s leadership has informed Nature that it would “respond to the IRTC Report’s recommendations and its broader implications after a committee [the IRTC-SC?] had considered the recommendations and reported to the university’s council.” The committee and Council were to meet by June 2019. Nevertheless, it confirmed that the protests had raised “very serious challenges” and that “many lessons were learnt”.

The IRTC-SC and Council have met twice since then. With regard to IRTC Report they ‘responded’:

“Council noted the varied responses to the report of the IRTC from the different constituencies, with some disagreeing with one or more aspects of the report. These different accounts and interpretations of the challenges facing the institution will be published together with the IRTC report in order to enrich what is likely to be ongoing conversations about transformation and reconciliation in our university.

This diversity of views is unsurprising given the contested nature of the events and environment which the IRTC investigated. Council noted that the brief of the IRTC was extensive and thoroughgoing.”

“Disappointingly, the levels of UCT stakeholder participation were poor.”

“Council noted the IRTC’s highlight of the pain of racism and gender-based discrimination experienced by some in our institution. Whilst disturbed by the persistence of these unacceptable practices, Council is unsurprised, after all UCT is a microcosm of a country where after many years of confronting this scourge, it remains a serious societal challenge.”

No mention is made of the effects of Fallism on UCT’s “Silenced Majority”, irrespective of self-identity, of staff and students who value learning, teaching and research above intimidation/destruction.

“Council resolved to adopt the recommendations of the IRTC subject to the issues raised on record by the current UCT executive.”

“Council also resolved, in the interest of reconciliation and given the passage of time, that regarding the matter of outstanding student disciplinary cases (as recorded in the case files of the University Student Disciplinary Tribunal) dating back to 2016 and 2017 which had been put on hold pending the IRTC process, these cases be withdrawn.”

There has been no mention of the Nature piece by those currently in power at UCT. The only UCT-sourced rebuttals (both strongly critical) are editorially-shortened letters (here and here) published in Nature in June.

The ‘bottom line’

So, allegations against an institution described by the frustrated Apartheid Regime as “Little Moscow on the Hill” and ranked perennially as Africa’s No. 1 university is now portrayed internally and internationally as “institutionally racist” and “violently discriminatory” and suppressive of ‘black’ members of Her community. Its ruling body (Council) endorsed this portrayal by granting unconditional amnesty to multiple, unapologetic law-breaking Fallists who have continued their racially-motivated defamatory and ‘decolonizing’ ways (see here, here and watch the video). All that members of the UCT Community can do is wait for a new violent/destructive ‘protest’ when, not if, Fallists’ and their supporter’s demands are not met. In the meantime, and in the spirit of fostering robust debate, I ‘dare’ that those in power at UCT make this missive and the attached documents available at least to members of Council and Senate so they can consider an alternative ‘truth’ for our “nourishing mother” – the real meaning of alma mater.

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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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