Vice Chancellors as Mirrors of the History of UCT: Max Price


Max Price

Setting the scene

For a nearly a century since her inception, UCT’s VCs dealt decisively and, when necessary, severely with lawbreaking by members of her community. From 1950, with some noteworthy exceptions, her VCs’ steadfast mission was maintain her status as an anti-apartheid, ‘open’ and ‘real’ university modelled on the commitment to the rule of law by VC Jock Beattie the vision and principles of and TB Davie.

  1. ‘She’ should be populated by “those fitted by ability and training for higher education … aiming at the advancement of knowledge by the methods of study and research founded on absolute intellectual integrity and pursued in an atmosphere of academic freedom.
  2. Her academics should have the autonomy to decide:
  3. who shall teach – determined by fitness and scholarship and experience;
  4. what they teach – the truth and not what it is demanded by others for the purposes of sectional, political, religious or ideological dogmas or beliefs;
  5. how they teach – not subject to interference aimed at standardization at the expense of originality; and [most importantly]
  6. whom they teach – [individuals] intellectually capable and morally worthy to join the great brotherhood [pace ‘sisters’] which constitutes the wholeness of the university.

The university community should:

  1. reflect the multi-racial picture of the society it serves;
  2. give a lead to the cultural and spiritual development of the different race groups as part of the developments of the community as a whole;
  3. aid the state by providing training for and maintaining standards in the learned professions and public services; and
  4. serve the community in the true sense of the university, i.e. as a centre for the preservation, the advance, and the dissemination of learning for its own sake and without regard to its usefulness, to all who are academically qualified for admission, irrespective of race, colour, or creed.

From 1980, anti-apartheid resistance in principle at UCT became outright defiance in practice. From 1996, defiance morphed into meaningful non-racial transformation along a broad front.

This history is chronicled in seven, ‘warts-and-all’ pieces covering the administrations of UCT’s first eight vice chancellors: Sir John Carruthers ‘Jock’ Beattie (1918-1938), Prof. Arthur Wellesley Falconer (1938-1947), Prof. Thomas Benjamin Davie (1948-1955), Jacobus Petrus Duminy (1958-1967), Sir Richard Luyt (1968-1980), Prof. Stuart John Saunders (1981-1996), Dr Mamphela Ramphele (1996-2000) and Prof. Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele (2000-2008). They will be submitted for publication to the UCT powers that be. Let’s see how they react.

Regardless, after the departure of VC Ndebele in 2008, there was still more ‘transformation’, but of a very disturbing nature.

The ‘Price’ of ‘decolonization’

During his decade in power (2008-2018), VC Max Price and his well-managed management team employed a variation of a strategy explicated by Benito Mussolini to undermine, if not abandon, the rule of law, Davie’s vision and principles and post-apartheid transformation. This strategy was facilitated by creating and promoting “parallel” structures (eschewed by VC Saunders) that undermined UC institutionally and promoted Fallism. Price’s ‘Mussolini Strategy’ worked on the following principle: “If you consolidate power by plucking a chicken one feather at a time, people don’t notice.” Price’s ‘parallel-plucking’ involved:

  1. ignoring the key finding of the Moran Report commissioned by VC Ndebele near the end of his administration: inordinate power concentrated in the ‘managerializing’, ‘fiscally-focused’, ‘commodified’, centralized administration needs to return to faculties, departments, academics and students – the people who are responsible for UCT’s core ‘business’ – education and research;
  2. evading dealing with symbolic racism during Price’s first term by failing to move, remove, rename or ‘contextualize’ offensive colonially-connected symbols (see here and here);
  3. continuing ill-conceived increases in the admission of educationally ‘disabled’ [by a highly dysfunctional Basic Education System] first-year students who could not be effectively mentored/nurtured/housed/fed at UCT – with more than half never graduating and many of those who succeed obtaining second-class degrees and burdened with significant debt;
  4. continuing to impose the failed and failing, marginalizing and gap-filling-extended-tutelage Academic Support/Development CHED Programmes of education on most of these students;
  5. failing to stop [or get ironclad guarantees from] lawbreaking Fallists from disrupting lectures, administrative offices and Council/Senate/Convocation/SRC/University Assembly meetings and intimidating those who do not share their views;
  6. issuing multiple ‘Price pardons’ and amnesties (based on questionable ‘restorative justice’)to unapologetic, recidivist lawbreakers, despite their reneging on promises not to re-offend;
  7. creating costly ‘working and task groups’ and ‘commissions’ and appointing ‘special advisors’ and ‘outsourced decolonialist speakers’ that/who usurped the duties of in-house academics and statutory university structures/committees/personnel;
  8. revoking decisions of the statutory Artworks, Academic Freedom and Readmission Appeals Committees;
  9. negotiating ’ (see also here and here) the November 2016 Agreement for non-violence with non-representative, politically radical, lawbreaking Fallists;
  10. supporting the creation, and facilitating the functioning, of a costly and potentially enormously influential ad hoc structure, the Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission, that, in the end, recommended more amnesties for some lawbreakers and ‘confirmed’ UCT’s “institutional racism” in the absence of substantive evidence;
  11. extending [without debate in Senate], from January 2017, formal recognition to the racially-structured, secretive, oligarchical [effectively run by a five-person “Executive Committee”] Black Academic Caucus as an “independent Interest Group” within UCT;
  12. aligning the UCT management with the “purpose and objectives as set out in the BAC Constitution as an agent for transformation and decolonization” that incited Fallist students to employ violent and destructive illegal protest to achieve its ends;
  13. failing to support intimidated academic/non-academic staff, deans and even DVCs who were defamed, ostracized and even assaulted by Fallists – leading to many precipitous resignations and one suicide;
  14. admission by Price of the existence of “institutional racism” at UCT expressed in a “host of everyday institutional practices on campus [that] are experienced by many black students and staff as discriminatory and seen to perpetuate racial stereotypes of superiority and inferiority”; and
  15. belatedly using an author – and evidence-free “Framework Document” by the blatantly pro-Fallist  Curriculum Change Working Group to deflect criticism of Price and his management team to ‘invisibly’ racist academics and curricula.

This relentless, cumulative ‘plucking’ contrasted sharply with Price’s ‘transformation vision’ for UCT enunciated in job interviews and his Inaugural Address, and eroded: free speech, unfettered access [censorship?] to UCT media, academic freedom and artistic expression. It weakened [emasculated?] the statutory power of the SRC and Senate and any remaining trust by moderate Fallists and UCT’s “Silenced Majority” in the Executive, Management, Senate and Council. Price’s legacy to his successor was a UCT in chaos and in danger of becoming controlled by a “parallel” Fallist cabal bent on her destructive “decolonization”.

If you need more convincing, below please contact me via the e-mail address in my CV for a necessarily long (90-page) sampling of evidence that supports these conclusions. This evidence is presented under heading such as: The Price ‘prequel’ – Wheeling and dealing; Great expectations; An ‘Afropolitan’ UCT; Phoney decolonization; A non-racial ‘toe in the water’; “Beattiean decent behaviour”, debate and rationalism replaced by defamation and resurrected racism; and Character assassination replaces debate.

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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.