Additional responses to Professor Adam Habib’s Communique

In response to: Opening the conversation: Accelerating transformation for an inclusive and competitive Wits

 

Response From Dr Danai Mupotsa

Dear Adam

Thank you for your reflections with regards to transformation and the opportunity to respond to the statement. I have some concerns.

I find your characterization of “staff and students” with poor readings of Fanon and Biko reactionary, defensive and borderline offensive. The statements rely on an encounter with one/a few students that can barely be suggested to represent the majority. In fact I have a number of very young undergraduate students approaching me all of the time for reading suggestions that extend beyond this stereotyped caricature. They ask for a range of texts from a genealogy of not only critical black/race thought, but queer and feminist texts as well. In principle, the interest they express is in expanding their vocabulary on the question of alienation – which they feel profoundly in their classrooms. In particular, it is the desire to succeed within the existing framework of how knowledge, learning, expertise etc… are measured and assessed and the simultaneous recognition of the extent to which they are misrecognized within these frames and consistently rattled back to the position of objecthood. The frustration as it emerges in sometimes bizarre and unimaginative ways accounts for the repetitive experience of everyday violence that students encounter. And it is not only the “corridor” personal racism but the range of assumptions that constitute what you characterize as the competitive intellectual environment. It is not clear to me what support to students (that include the very clear demands around their living conditions and lack of financial support) the proposed agenda that speaks of “curriculum” but appears to not attend to the culture of the university and the forms of alienation that it produces.

Transformation of the curriculum and university appears to consider sex/gender/sexuality/class as secondary offshoots of race – perhaps a more sophisticated discussion on difference is required. And by this, I am not signalling poor translations of intersectionality.

I am in strong support of the desire to attend to the outsourcing and casualization of labour at Wits. Your statement does not account for the fact that the mobilizations around these issues have been formed by an assemblage of workers, students and staff. There is no clear statement on what the specific intentions are to address this. Can we have a deadline and budget that commits to this question?

While to a large extent you address the need to make more complex the demands articulated by “Black” and “Coloured” staff – your address to “White” and “Indian” staff is in shorthand a statement on dubious cleverness and politeness. Questions of difference are constitutive and relational beyond the “corridors of injustice”. What more specific political and intellectual questions can you pose beyond “please play nicely” since transformation is important. As it stands it appears as though the work of transformation relies on addressing black staff (and I use this in the broader sense not implied in the orchestrated split) should be acted upon and further consider the conditions that create the conditions of repetition. Please see the readings attached which expand on these particular concerns and specifically address university culture in relation to a phenomenology of whiteness. They all happen to be by Sara Ahmed. A group of postgraduate students along with some staff ran a reading group on the body of work under the title “desire/difference” last year.

Please contact me if you have any further questions.

Regards
Danai

Dr Danai Mupotsa is a Lecturer in African Literature in the School of Literature, Language and Media at Wits University

 

 

Anonymous Comment

Dear Adam

Thank you, the statement clarifies a  lot of the issues arising from the bits and pieces coming from the BSO meeting. I would like to note that the experiences of black academics are not by any means homogenous and it is a generalisation to say not a single black academic has had a positive experience. There are also different experiences between black South Africans and non-South African blacks – even at the corridor level. Hence, whatever plan is implemented, it must not be premised on this extreme perception (which may be true especially on the Braamfontein East Campus). It would be beneficial after your meeting with WSO to meet with everyone having circulated the statement of the issues and what your vision is in navigating this matter.

Sincerely

Associate Professor

 

 

Response to Professor Habib’s Communique

I should start by thanking Professor Habib for the efforts he is making to address the important task of removing inequality in our society and more specifically in the Wits community.

This is important because what he is doing has not been done this actively by others before him.

We now have his first paper on the question of transformation and an invitation to respond to it. What Professor Adam is proposing is reform. Reform, by definition, means “improvement” or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt and unsatisfactory, often to make it more acceptable to those who oppose it.

The paper contains curious definitions of Transformation, which he has collected from “public discourse” and from “conversations”. I suggest that in addition to asking for definitions Professor Habib could ask another question. For example, “What is to be transformed?” I offer an immediate answer knowing that he may get other answers from these sources. What needsto be transformed (changed fundamentally) is the system of racism that was created by apartheid. That system consisted of an ideological framework designed to protect whiteinterests by subjugating Black people. Matching structural arrangements that favour the dominant group support such a system. It should be clear that this system is designed  and has the intention of protecting group interests. It will be defended by the dominant group when attempts are made to undo it.

Transformation of such a system thereforerequires the undoing of these structural arrangements whose fabric is in the form of the people who hold positions at the nodes of the organogram. In other words the Transformationwe talk about means the undoing of the framework by which one group oppresses another. Professor Habib has thrown in his paper, as “definitions”, just some of the outcomes of a transformed university. For example, what he calls “increasing African and Coloured representation”. It is important that we approach this problem with frankness; with a strong sense of integrity and honesty to ourselves as well as to those we aim to save. We can’t solve it if we dress the problem in spices so as not to hurt the perpetrators of oppression. Also, this approach could be helpful in testing the sincerity of the people Professor Habib says “protest that theyare open and supportive of Transformation”. The failure to identify the problem with frankness and courage will result in the proposal of unsustainable solutions. Indeed the solutions offered by Professor Habib cannot bear much fruit because they are based on the premise that the oppression is happening by mistake and can be corrected simply by “managerial maturity”. I am not sure what is meant by this. In any case, it conveniently runs away from the fact that what we have is, in fact, ideological maturity – of a class that has perfected the art of oppression and corruption. Furthermore, these solutions contain the vexing assumption that there are indeed real defects in Black academic staff. Defects that can be alleviated by altruistic mentoringby the existing structure. In the paper, it is not even suggested that it is possible our career paths are actively frustrated by specific and systematic designs. It also leads to incorrect diagnoses.
For example, the main problem at Wits is not the recruitment of Black people but their retention. Some of them immediately sense, upon arrival, that upward mobility is virtually impossible and disembark quickly. I do not want to say “many” because I did not count them. But imagination together with the advantage of experience (in this forum) should be helpful.

The mention of specific figures would have been effective if kept in a private wish list since, at this juncture, is serves only as a smokescreen – diverting us from the core issues.  What is needed now is finding a sustainable solutions by rigorously addressing what keeps the oppressive system healthy. It is not just about the absence of Black people.  It is also about the absence of what type of Black people. Professor Habib will know, since he understands very well Apartheid Bantustans and (probably) Representative Councils as well, that this kind of system has the innate ability to choose its own blacks to ensure long-term survival.

Overall, it is disturbing that Professor Habib’s paper is adorned with intellectually judgemental “-isms” and curious terms such as ‘advocates” and “Transformation movement” which have the effect of reducing what we consider to be crucial aspects of our humanity to some fashionable academic excesses. Curiously, Professor Habib is forthright, courageous andhas choice terminology when it comes to attacking those who fight against this system whom he compares to “Fascists”. It is hard to find in his writings, matching words for the racists even though he admits there is “overt racism” at Wits. I have only addressed what I consider to be urgent matters and I tried to avoid an even lengthier response given your busy schedules at mid-year.

Monde Ntwasa is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Molecular and Cell Biology

 

 

Comment From A Wits Student

Dear Prof. Habib

Thank you for your latest communique.  I have been a postgraduate student at WITS since 2011 and have been on PMA for the majority of it.  One of my main concerns while tutoring students was the enormous education gap between students from different types of schools.

At my previous university there were three compulsory courses, namely computer literacy, intro to research and language literary geared toward helping underprivileged students learn to use computers, to conduct research and utilize the available university and online resources and teach them how to properly express themselves while writing essays and tests.  These courses where especially helpful for students like me who isn’t an English first language speaker and wasn’t taught in English before reaching university level.

I have already greatly benefited from the postgrad workshops, but I feel that these types of classes would be most beneficial if made available from an undergraduate level.  I know many schools already provide students with extra tutorial sessions, but I think more time and resources should be devoted to helping bridge the gap between high school and university.

I have many bright and hard-hardworking students who struggle to get good marks, because various reasons related to an inadequate high school education and a lack of understanding as to how to use the available resources. I would love to see them succeed and if resources aren’t available to provide new classes to help these students, I will at least ask that the resources available is advertised better.

Yours sincerely

Tutor and Postgraduate Student

 

 

Transformation must go beyond racism

To whom it may concern

I feel that Transformation needs to go beyond racism. I feel that the first step is that international students outside SADC should not be charged more than double the local fees. We are all equal and this would break xenophobia.

The second point that I feel is vital is the pass rate in some courses in Engineering are very disturbing. In most universities around the world especially in USA, Canada, UK, and Singapore the average student completes their degree in stipulated time. However in the Engineering Faculty the failure rates do reach as high as 70%. This suggests that the teaching methods by the lectures is very poor. Why haven’t these lectures been question to why the failure rate is so high. There is something wrong here, please look up into it. It is unacceptable for students to take an average time of more than 6 years to complete a 4 year degree. Student complains about lecturers are not taken seriously especially when they have no interest in educating their students. Failure rates need to be kept at a minimum or otherwise it should raise red flags and I am sure lecturers would do their best to want their students to pass.

If Wits wants to be a top university in the world, i believe these a re vital issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Regards

Wits Student

 

 

Staff comment from the US

Dear Adam

I read your “Accelerating Transformation” document this morning with great interest. I am currently writing a case for support for Wits that will have resonance for our global alumni and it gave me greater insight about the difficult line that Wits (and you) must tread while weighing the demands of transformation with the need to maintain Wits as a global institution. I commend you for resisting the suggestion that there should be a moratorium on the hiring of white faculty, and hope the requirement for current faculty to more aggressively mentor rising black academics is vigorously observed. I worry though that the effective declaration of a “glass ceiling” for white academics will accelerate their departure for perceived greener pastures overseas. I recognize, however, that there is no easy answer to this.

Best

Patricia Barber
United States

 

 

Comment from a foreign academic

Dear Professor Habib,

I thank you for your well-balanced statement. I personally agree with almost all of your points of view.

As a foreign academic I would like to raise a very specific concern.

Universities are to some extent international entities, especially so the Schools and Departments in the Faculty of Science. The global demographics and the global demographics of scientists are completely different to the South African demographic.
Please exclude foreign scientists from the statistics for the transformation agenda. I think though, foreign scientists should count for the gender ratio, as this is a global issue.

A School in the Sciences should have about 50% foreign researchers, in my opinion. There is no way to achieve 75%-90% black (South African) academic staff complement, if one includes foreign researchers in the statistics. Trying to force the issue would compromise the quality of teaching and research. That has nothing to do with skin colour, just numbers (how many high quality academics the country can produce), diversity (cultural, in education and research focus) and exchange (of ideas and ways of life).

I might be categorised as a white male, but my being here does not put back the transformation, although the statistics might say so. I am educating students (of any colour and gender) to be good scientists and hopefully also to be open-minded and critical people. As such, I am increasing their chances to become successful in life and push the transformation forward. On the paper foreigners are in the way of the transformation, but we are not. We can help. You can make us a valuable tool in the efforts.

I realise, that the transformation issue is very emotional for South Africans, however, as a foreigner, I hope you will find a pragmatic middle ground.

Best regards

 

 

Views from Mandivavarira Maodzwa – Taruvinga

I found the Vice Chancellor’s statement at once very insightful and educative. Please find below my quick response and suggestions on selected issues that echo his insightful proposals or comments.

“Every one of his recommendations is already policy or practice at Wits, and I suspect at many other universities. Yet they have not had the desired transformative outcome. Why is this case, and what does it tell us about our future interventions?”

Response: From rhetoric to action
Cross disciplinary curricula development committees should be set up to meet one every two weeks or once every month and focus on how departments or programmes are proposing changes to  curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices. Instead of waiting for the once off external examination engagement or once in 5 years curriculum review process, the Wits internal curriculum development committees would expedite transformation   process.  While this might be one way to proceed, in an institutional culture where research outputs rather than teaching activities ( and therefore curriculum development activities) are the basis for promotion, activities that ensure authentic curriculum transformation will easily take a back sit. Personal academic interest informed by the “publish or perish” maxim will kick in as a natural reflex for “ survival of the fittest’  in the “academic jungle”.

“Similarly, Fanon has been read in problematic ways, especially by student and scholar activists involved in the struggles around symbols and naming. It is striking how often Fanon’s name is invoked in these struggles in misleading ways.”

Response: In search of alternative academic perspectives
Since the curriculum especially within the humanities and social sciences is skewed in favour of White scholars or authors, students have said they have taken the initiative to  form reading groups that meet after classes to read Fanon, Biko, Malcom X, Paulo Freire in order to develop alternative perspectives.  It is in the context of this self- education that students might misread the ideas without the benefit of guidance and critique or even any further reflection on how a changed globalised context has ushered in new and complex layers to contestations. In the absence of a systematic and critical dialogic engagement, it should not be surprising that any initial reading of radical scholars might result in what can be viewed by some within the academy as “unsophisticated, pedantic or dogmatic” interpretations”.  Students’ initiatives might be a result of a yearning to fill a gap, to find discourses that will teach them to “transgress”. What would be unhelpful is to discourage and criticise them when our curriculum is not flexible enough to expose them to these alternative discourses. They yearn to develop the power to enunciate issues using powerful alternative theories and perspectives.  It has to be appreciated they are running away from mimicry, from being peeping Toms. They want to be co-investigators, co-learners and co-knowledge producers. That we have to recognise and find ways to tap into this passion to create a vibrant academic culture anchored in multiple perspectives.  As an African woman knowledge worker, that is my passion too.

“We also need to consider the possibility of a mandatory course for all students that speaks to South Africa’s history, citizenship, civic service and a broader sense of ethics.”

Response: A  liberal education agenda that is responsive to the needs of local development and global competiveness
Would a cross faculty course registration and exposure, as the hallmarks of a liberal education facilitate curriculum, pedagogic and assessment approaches that avoid the traps of early disciplinary specialisation, course proliferation and genericism in ways that fulfil both the needs of the academic project and development agenda

Thank you for this opportunity to add my voice.

Regards

Mandi

Mandivavarira Maodzwa – Taruvinga
Wits School of Education
Faculty of Humanities

 

 

Comment from an academic staff member

Dear Professor Habib

I appreciate the fact that you have initiated such a project but we are still reluctant to participate in such because we are not sure of the outcome. Some of us have been at this University for 14 years and yet we still earn at the bottom end of the scale. When the union negotiated this salary increase we asked why all will be grouped to be at the lower salary scale even if we are productive and have been here for more than 10 years. My understanding of the salary negotiations was that everyone will be moved to the minimum and then research performance will be added after that so to make a difference between those who perform and those who do not. But when that did not happen, I met with Kgomotso and he said the agreement is that 7% and performance will be added and if you still below then pushed to the minimum. This affects the majority of us  Blacks, Indians  and Coloureds. One of the Deans in Science who left to UWC and became the DVC tried to adjust the salaries of all black academics in the faculty  towards those of their counterparts with a hope of closing the gap.

Hope that this is one of the approaches that you are willing to take if you are to address injustice. It is more hurtful to be in the same level but earn less and I know because one of my colleague at law who is white was earning even better than me last year while he was a lecturer and I was a senior lecturer.

Regards

Academic in Science

 

 

Comment from Emmanuel Ojo

Dear Professor Habib

As the ‘CEO’ of this university managing the ongoing conversations around transformation at Wits, I thought of sharing a new publication with you. It is a book chapter titled, ‘Challenges and Opportunities for New Faculty in South African Higher Education’. It is available for download on https://db.tt/C1xH0lrm It speaks to the Emerging Career Researcher group which I know you are interested in developing at Wits.
Further information on the book is available online. See http://www.amazon.com/Young-Faculty-Twenty-First-Century-International/dp/1438457278 & http://www.sunypress.edu/p-6071-young-faculty-in-the-twenty-fir.aspx

I hope reading this chapter will give you further contextual understanding. May you be blessed always!

Kind Regards
Emmanuel Ojo
Senior Tutor in the School of Economic and Business Sciences

 

Wits vice-chancellor says state can help end exploitation

Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib plans to abolish the “exploitative” practice of outsourcing support service workers on campus.
Habib urged the entire university community to supply “comments, criticisms and further suggestions” to him. These will be considered in the development of a strategic plan on transformation that he will present to the senate and council for consideration and adoption.

Below is part of my contribution:

A critical aspect that also needs to looked into is how much the salary bill of “white collar” staff and academic staff has increased over the past 15 years after the outsourcing project. The university has introduced many new professional positions into the organisation like chartered accountants (being one example) to each of the faculties and it is a known fact that the packages of such individuals is high. In addition, there has been the establishment of a number of new units within the support services structure which would have impacted on the total salary bill of the university. Has the introduction of these additional staff and units resulted in improved service delivery and efficiencies within the organisation- a question that needs interrogation. In order to do justice to this entire project, there has to be bench-marking against other tertiary institutions and to carefully consider the ratio to support staff to students as well as the ratio of academic staff to students in order to make a meaningful assessment of the entire situation. Whilst agreeing that the state also has a responsibility to increase its subsidy to the university, it also requires a critical examination of what has been mentioned in my introductory comments. Salary savings  may have to be considered within the organisation whilst also making a decisive intervention with the Ministry of Higher Education. By approaching the fiscal matter through these 2 interventions, there remains the possibility of actually arriving at a more realistic picture of what the real costs may be of bringing outsourced workers back into the university labour force.

The effect of the outsourcing also had a major impact on the dominant union at the time in the university at the time, namely, NEHAWU. It definitely resulted in the weakening of the union which inadvertently benefited management. There is a perception that it was in the interest of management to outsource so that it was faced with a lesser threat from organised labour. It was easier to instruct the outsourced companies to sort out their labour disputes instead of the University having to be caught up with industrial relations cases.

The above comments is a “quick” contribution to the discussion/dialogue.

Nazime Randera
Assistant Registrar
Parktown Cluster

 

 

Response to staff communication – ‘opening the conversations: accelerating transformation for an inclusive and competitive Wits’

Dear members of VCO

I work on the Wits Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Programmes within the Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office. My mandate includes running advocacy programmes which highlighting SOGI and support people who are LGBTIAQ+. I am also a disabled member of staff, and am deaf. I have read the statement released with frustration, as I feel it does not include significant portions of the Wits community, and was not inclusive in the consultative process.

I have two responses to the statement:

      1. There is a central focus in the document upon one form of discrimination. My concern is that there are other prevalent forms of discrimination that are not captured – and indeed one cannot look at discrimination from a one-dimensional perspective. All kinds of oppression are connected, and taking a single-issue stance is problematic. In my line of work, I can attest to the experiences of many LGBTIAQ+ members of the Wits community who feel discriminated against. I am disappointed to have read through the document and seen no mention of discriminations faced by disabled people, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, classism, bullying and other forms of discrimination. By focusing on race in isolation, one excludes all intersecting forms of violence faced by the Wits community. It is recommended that the document address the needs for -
        1. Gender neutral toilets – gender variant students do not feel safe using binaried toilets, and a growing need for gender neutral toilets is evident. This is being raised at the Occupational Health and Safety Committee, but needs institutional support for it to be implemented. Every new building should have two gender neutral toilets and one toilet in older buildings with multiple stall toilet facilities should be converted to a gender neutral toilet. These conversions consist of no more than signage change and a communication issued to staff and students in the vicinity.
        2. Name change policy – gender variant students who wish to change their names on ICAM cards and student records must be allowed to do so easily and quickly. It is important for all students who are gender variant to feel safe by using a card that reflects their appearance, and name. It is also important for students to have the option to not state their title on university records.
        3. Curriculum – LGBTIAQ+ students need staff members who understand their needs, and are happy to offer support to them when it comes to issues that affect their academic performance. However, if change is not affected at curriculum level, one cannot call Wits an institution which engages effectively with curriculum transformation. Using same-sex couple and gender variant examples in teaching, and including the writings and experiences of South African LGBTIAQ+ academics, one can address heteronormative and cisnormative teachings at all levels. Facilitating the best support possible for LGBTIAQ+ students cannot be realised until all academics have competence in understanding issues which LGBTIAQ+ people face.
        4. Support within residences – Wits has multiple LGBTIAQ+ people living in residences, who face heterosexism and cissexism in their daily lived experiences. One student has made allegations of discrimination in the media earlier in 2015 referring to his 2014 experiences of living in fear in his residence. Though he no longer lives in residence, it is vital for sensitisation and advocacy campaigns to take place in these spaces. It is important for the recently formed residence intervention group of CCDU/GEO/etc. to take this issue on in their advocacy after consulting with LGBTIAQ+ stakeholders.
        5. Improved turnaround time for dealing with allegations of discrimination – all cases of discrimination need to be given attention when reported. However, when LGBTIAQ+ people report discrimination, allegations of cases being finalised after extended periods of time have emerged. This is not acceptable, and where there is commitment to address cases of racial discrimination, the same urgency and sensitivity needs to be applied to all forms of discrimination.
        6. Institutional support for LGBTIAQ+ people – when considering institutional culture, one must emphasise that support of LGBTIAQ+ people needs to be a priority. Two existing programmes are part of institutional culture transformation initiatives and are not mentioned – Safe Zones@Wits and Wits Pride. These programmes are important in creating and maintaining a safe and welcoming institution, and institutional support is important.

 

      1. In discussion of employment equity, disabled people are excluded. Disabled people are a designated group and are consistently excluded in all mention of employment equity. It is important to factor in the need to make our institution accessible and respectful towards all people with disabilities. Failure to do so contravenes the guidelines set out in the Wits employment equity plan and policy. It is crucial to consider universal access when discussing institutional culture, as failure to do so buys into reinforcing abled privilege. It is recommended that the writers of this document attend the Wits Disability Interest Group to gain insight into the multiple needs of disabled members of the Wits community.

I appreciate the opportunity given to comment on the statement, and am happy to answer any questions relating to the above.

I trust that you will give these omissions your full attention.

Regards

Tish

Ctrl Alt Gender – trans* support group: ctrlaltgender@gmail.com
Activate Wits –society for LGBTIAQ+ Wits students: activatewits@gmail.com
Tish White –Coordinator – Wits Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Programmes: tish.white@wits.ac.za / 011 717 1456

 

 

Transformation comment – student

Dear Vice Chancellor

Upon reading your thoughts on transformation at wits, I have a few thoughts of my own that may be of interest.

It was mentioned that there are already “solutions” to enhance transformation that wits has put into place but don’t seem to be working.

I have been observing the student body for quite some time. It has come to my realization that, whilst racism is a concern, it is actually a coverup for a deeper darker issue.

Black students are feeling marginalized and disadvantaged despite the fact that the majority of wits is black. This feeling, however, is not entirely a racism issue but rather an educational and access issue. The majority of black students enter wits from a disadvantaged background. Whilst their reports may reflect good marks, their quality of education is incredibly poor. White and indian students, on the other hand, have reports that truly reflect the quality of education obtained.

When disadvantaged black students enter a university like wits, they are forced to compete with the students that have come from a privileged background (predominantly white and Indian students). As a result, these students struggle to get top marks, pass, or get into honours programs. You cannot expect a positive outcome from such an unfair policy. This is what causes black students to fight against the wits constitution, it is a result of anger, frustration and inequality.

We need to create an environment where students feel excited about learning. Where they have a hunger to better their understanding and adopt bridging courses.

There needs to be an appreciation that the schooling system for the majority of people in the country are poor and it must be acknowledged that the majority of these people are black. People, however coming out of these conditions need to understand this and accept that they may need extra help. I am aware that bridging courses are in place but students are not taking them and this needs to be addressed and reevaluated.

What I suggest is that instead of having bridging courses that run whilst students are completing a degree, we do assessments. Assess the background students are coming from and the extent of their understanding. Those that need bridging classes should be given a years bridging course prior to starting their degree. This bridging course should help to tackle the issues that have arisen from their background as well as provide them with a grounding on which they can excel in their degree.

Matters like these should be what the Src should focus on, this aspect of transformation.

I feel that if this issue were addressed, transformation would occur at a faster rate and be more accepted among the student body.

Kind regards

Nabeelah Coovadia

 

 

Comment from CLTD

Dear Professor Habib,

I applaud your efforts to address this thorny issue in a direct but well considered manner. I offer my contribution in this response as a staff member of CLTD. I should add that I write this e-mail in my personal capacity as a Wits staff member engaging with our VC.

As the name of our centre suggest (i.e., the Centre for Learning, Teaching & Development), I believe that we should , logically, be directly involved in staff development, and I am glad that this has been mentioned. I would like to highlight however, that for various historic reasons, this particular function of CLTD has gradually diminished over the years, due to the dominant discourse (in my opinion) that academic staff do not need any hand holding as far as the development of academic identity is concerned. In light of the current debates however, I am sure most will agree that this is not entirely true. The main point I’m attempting to raise is that CLTD can, in fact, contribute very meaningfully to the effort of staff transformation, in partnership with the Transformation office and AD as well as mainstream academics colleagues in the faculties, if management recognises and endorses this role. CLTD has an excellent mentor training programme in-house (in fact, we’re the only AD unit in the country presently with this focus area embedded in it), and we have already started a programme, with VC Andrew Crouch’s endorsement, for the development of young academic staff. However, the latter is currently only for those staff who receive NRF Thuthuka grants, because it is a joint Research Office/ CLTD initiative. Further, we have staff who are trained in leadership development and personal mastery approaches. We also stand apart from faculties and are therefore viewed as reasonably impartial. As a result, we are able to create a safe space for academics to engage on deeper issues, and our experiences have demonstrated that staff do indeed feel comfortable with voicing their concerns in our workshops.

I ,personally, am away from Wits at present and will therefore not be able to attend the colloquium on transformation tomorrow. However,it is my hope that the role that CLTD could play in this process will emerge in some way. I believe that we cannot ignore this issue any longer and I am certainly glad that it is finally being directly addressed.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Kershree Padayachee
Senior Lecturer (Academic Development), CLTD

 

 

Student comment

Good day sir,

I wish to state some areas to be explored to be brief and precise.

Use clubs and societies objectives to foster a culture of community. Why are such important mouthpieces of student interests dis empowered? Before they had offices and digital communication facilities, now it is though they have been purposefully constrained.

Students need a balanced campus experience instead of intimidating high walls with no sense of community and every man for themselves is the order of the day.

Therefore, it is important to offer dining hall facilities and food not only to the boarding pupils but to include breakfast and lunch for the broader wits student body. The administration of this could be a challenge but the rewards of a wits student body who do not befriend one another based on economic backround (as a result even race) will be great for transformation.

Black students will be shy to stay at Wits any longer than under graduate degree level if these issues are not addressed. They will start to feel less like visitors and more at home once they feel that the university takes their most basic needs into account.

These two areas need some intervention as far as I see and have potential to make a real difference to the experience of a Wits student.

I wish all the best for the measures to be used overall.

Yours Sincerely,
Kagiso Mabule
Wits YALDA Executive Director

 

 

Academic Comment

Dear Adam

I thought this a very well put together argument by Professor Habib. However, there are several points that might be worth considering in the transformation process. These are:

  1. There is no mention of people with disabilities in the professorial transformation process. Where merited and appropriate this aspect should be an integral part of transformation.
  2. There is a great deal of emphasis on the demand side of the transformation process which is entirely correct, but less on the supply side. For example, how do we provide a new cohort of academics when there are serious shortfalls in PhD generation?. This is partly because there is a paucity of supervisors with the capacity to offer PhD supervision and the perceived cost/ benefits of taking this kind of supervision on, in terms of workload weighting,research output recognition and financial reward. More emphasis needs to be put on this aspect to encourage supervisors with the necessary qualifications to take up this role.
  3. It is not clear to what extent is nationality a factor in the transformation process. for example, are foreign African academics to take precedence over South African candidates?

Best wishes
Prof. David Coldwell

 

 

Anonymous student comment

Dear Sir/Madam

I wish to briefly express my opinion on an area I think needs to be revised:”double” payment of International registration fee.
I am an international student and I registered at Wits in July 2014 for a one year post graduate program (July 2014-July 20115), paid the full annual international registration fee. In 2015, I was forced to pay another full international registration fee despite the fact that I am left with only six months to complete my degree.

I approached professor Mary Scholes over the issue and she emailed both the Fees Office and International Office suggesting that they should make me pay such fee at a calculated rate considering that I enrolled mid year the previous year and would be finishing mid year.

The response was disappointing- they said they do not know who is supposed to make such decisions, and I ended up paying the full amount. So essentially within 2 semesters I have paid international registration for two years.

This is very discouraging and out of ALL the nice things about Wits, this has been the most disappointing treatment I received. While going through this process- sentiments were passed on me suggesting that International students have enough money to pay otherwise they would not have been granted visas if they had insufficient funds. That is a very bad misconception, I have sacrificed my father’s pension funds to be at Wits, am still struggling financially despite having my tuition sponsored. To some of us, education is an unescapably necessary tool for our emancipation from the poverty trap.

Thank you for taking this matter into consideration.

Yours Sincerely
Anonymous Student

 

 

Academic comment

Dear Professor Habib,

In your document that has just been circulated, you wrote:

“…. the Deans and individual Heads of Schools and Departments protest that they are open to and supportive of Transformation. The problem lies not in the professed commitment ….”.

I am unsure about the commitment of a previous (White) Dean at Wits about a decade ago, in relation to a particular “case” involving a Black male Wits student who had been identified as being talented. The School/Department concerned (not mine) apparently approached the Dean about this person being given a junior academic position. I heard, indirectly, that the Dean simply said “No”, allegedly on the grounds that he did not have the money. This was probably true, but in the interests of Transformation, he should have made an effort to find funds, in my opinion. The student (or ex-student) went overseas, I think; and was snapped up by another South African university. I’m not sure in what order these two things took place. As it happens, however, the ex-student is now a member of staff at Wits (after all)! Anyway, the point is that it would seem that a decade or so ago, this former Dean exhibited a “lack of vision”. That kind of non-proactive attitude, if it was more widespread historically, will presumably have contributed to the current situation at Wits.

As regards the appointment of junior White staff, it is on the other hand natural for a promising postgraduate student who has been supervised within a particular School/Department and is therefore known to the School/Department, to subsequently become the candidate of choice amongst applicants for an academic position. In the (past) cases I am thinking of, there was nothing racially sinister about this. It is merely that the best candidates were selected, and that has no doubt also contributed to today’s racial composition of academic staff at Wits.

Kind regards,

Miles Markus
Honorary Professorial Research Fellow
School of Animal, Plant & Environmental Sciences

 

 

Academic comment

Dear Prof. Habib

I find it very interesting that the whole discussion regarding transformation is about race and ignores gender altogether. i’d like to suggest that you request numbers from the HR Office of the Science Faculty and check, in particular, how many female Full Professors there are in this Faculty. I could also talk a good deal about the sexism in the corridor that I have experienced over the last 15 years, but frankly, I think I would be wasting my time.

Best regards,
Prof. Sigrid Ewert

School of Computer Science
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

 

 

Academic comment

Dear Prof Habib

For the most part, I found your statement on transformation thoughtful and constructive. But I would like to comment on two sections.

First, and most importantly, the strategy outlined here to attract African and Coloured staff, while perhaps necessary, is essentially superficial. It’s about recruiting from a small pool (especially if black non-South Africans are excluded) so as to make the statistics look better. Rather, the money would be better spent in finding ways to expand the pool. Two important suggestions were made from the floor at one of your feedback sessions which I think you ignored: first, we need to create a competitive, elite doctoral scholarship which builds in a commitment of 3-5 years work at Wits after completion; second, we need to think seriously about reintroducing development and bridging programmes at entry level to help overcome the inadequacies of public schooling. Many talented black students from the public school system fail to reach their potential because they struggle to adapt to university expectations. This is not only about borderline students struggling to pass, but about helping middling students to become outstanding students.

On the language issue, offering language courses on-line is a very weak offering. These courses are, in any case, available through the Wits Language School. If we are serious about it, we have to create some real incentives and it has to be done as a group project. If a critical mass of people are learning a language together the chances of success are much higher. It may also be a way of helping to revitalise  African language departments.

Best wishes
Prof. Clive Glaser

 

 

Anonymous academic comment

Save for the unexpected exclusion of the Indian members of staff from this “Black staff only” (BSO) meeting, a large majority of us who had attended the combined staff faculty board meeting appreciated Adam’s accurate observation that Black staff did NOT feel either comfortable and/or were not willing to openly engage in that combined forum (for various reasons: e.g. Institutional power which is what the issue is here is perceived to be sitting with the “other”; Black staff members might not want to open up in the presence of their white colleagues to ensure continued collegiality since this is not a personal issue although it might come out as such when frank discussions are held, etc, etc). The completely different AND totally open engagement that happened at this meeting with BSO certainly affirmed Adam’s perception, and in a way provided evidence for why it was necessary to go that route. The fact that Adam received support from White staff when he communicated his intention to and his reasons for meeting with BSO at the Faculty Board meeting, in my mind, indicated white colleagues’ “on board with the move” position? Also, it must be noted that at this BSO meeting, Black staff members stressed the importance of ensuring that this engagement is comprehensive and all encompassing – and specifically asked that Adam does also meet with White staff on their own (WSO) with obviously an expected next step being to then meet everyone together once at least the “problem” has been properly framed within “safe” spaces for all involved.

I must admit that the exclusion of Indian colleagues from the BSO did come as a surprise to me and a number of us, and this was briefly discussed at the start of the meeting.

At the meeting last week Wednesday, in a room full of Black academics – for the entire duration (2hrs) of the meeting, it was noted that NOT ONE single person shared a positive experience of being a Black academic at Wits. Not one person expressed that their lived experience in the academy has been that of fairness, inclusivity, etc. (let alone an experience of being in a nurturing environment that allows for “destabilization”). A large majority of us believe that what was openly shared last week should be evidence enough for you to ACT.

To make sure that the engagement does not remain a “conversation” or what some believe could be a PR exercise,  some of us continued the engagement after the meeting last week, and the following is what we would like noted by SET (you):
1.      Now that Black academics have engaged with you, we would like YOU to frame the problem as you perceive it based on our engagement as soon as possible so that we can make sure that you “heard us”; and to make certain that interventions are actually for the problem expressed
2.      We would like to see the statement on racism and the institution’s plans to combat it being disseminated as soon as possible
3.       We would like to receive a copy of your/SET’s detailed plan on how to deal with transformation (racism/white supremacy) as it relates to both curriculum and staff as soon as possible so that we as a group can deliberate on it and give input
4.     We would like feedback on deliberations and resolutions on the following matters which were of importance by the beginning of block 3:
a.      Moratorium on appointment of white staff for the next 5 years
b.      Strategic positions to Black academics; including committee roles and involvements
c.       Careful and deliberate direct engagement with all academic programmes that continue to enroll majority white students (especially at PG level)
d.      Rotation of DVCs to different faculty staffing and promotions meetings
5.      Some of us would like feedback on your meeting with white academics

 

Transformation – staff contribution

Dear Adam

Thank you for your broad consultation. Some comments on the ‘At-last!’ Transformation debate.

I notice through the various comments that there are:

1.Unacceptable practices: Overt racism; discrimination; favouritism; unrepresentative committees… (to be dealt with seriously & swiftly)
2. Unconscious racism; myopic worldviews; assumed validities.. (there could be processes, programmes, events, challenges, to address these. For people to unlearn, learn, ..)
3. Barriers to access; progress; belonging (these need to be seen, sorted out on structural, procedural and educational levels – your proposal of curriculum reform)
4. Spaces, practices, events, challenges that model or promote harmony, diversity, respect (CLTD may play a role here too)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story …

Regards
Dr Moyra Keane
Centre for Learning Teaching & Development

 

 

On your blog debate

Hello Adam,

The reality is that no one is forced to attend Wits.

To survive and thrive, Wits will need to attract the most capable and dynamic students – who, in turn, will evaluate whether Wits has a competitive enough offering. This will require that Wits attracts and retains academics that meet the highest standards of publications and international ratings. As long as Wits is uncompromising on that requirement it can then proceed to work out what resourcing is needed to match its Transformational aspiration – and your academic fund is a useful idea in that regard.

The pragmatic approach of Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s, when faced with the ideological hubris that had brought China to its knees, is noteworthy: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice”.

I suspect most prospective students, regardless of their race grouping, care less about the racial category of their academics and more about whether they are going to get something useful out of attending Wits.

From a demographic perspective, Wits probably does need more black South African academics and from the rest of the African continent. But, in the final analysis, that is not why anyone will choose to go to Wits.

“Transformation” should be about what Wits seeks to become – and an exclusive focus on race will be an institutional dead end.

Regards

Ravi Naidoo

 

 

Accelerating transformation – student contribution

Dear VC

Thank you for your quick response to this issues. I believe an efficient and effective way to embrace, recognize, and promote usage of Indigenous languages without discarding the significance of English as we are part of the global community  would be the one that would deliberately ensure that Staff and students take a course in one of the South African indigenous Languages.
VC I would also like to inform you that as Black South African students we are not using English because we like it or it was our individual choices. The system excludes our native languages in everything we do and in that process it rip us our very own cultures and values . In my own experiences which I hope I am not alone in it; I have seen how coming from deep rural areas into world class universities like Wits that does embrace African Languages has affected my self-esteem in lecture participation and more during my first year of study. The usage of English and the intorelence towards recognizing  Indigenous Languages; privileges Whites students and Black middle class students while leaving the rest of us unabsorbed by this Englishfied system.

Regards

Mthokozisi (Student)

 

 

Contribution from an academic Dr Pam Nichols

Dear Professor Habib,

I applaud the strong stance of your opening statement, particularly in its intention to reject both colour-blind approaches and racial essentialism. However, the crucial gap in the conversation so far is in addressing the politics of pedagogy. It is because of the politics of pedagogy that students say they are not listened to, and it is because of the invisible politics of pedagogy that transformation within the classrooms has been so limited.

In the curriculum reform section of your document, Opening the Conversation, there is a proposal to change the books taught, to make local connections and to use e-learning. However, as my mentor, Edward Said, used to say, it is not what you teach but how you teach it, which matters. Many South African classrooms have inherited an authoritarian culture which is profoundly anti-democratic and anti-transformational. This culture is obvious to outsiders, but often not to South Africans, whether of conservative or purportedly radical persuasion, who understand the inherited classroom culture as normal.

The inherited model is hierarchical. Lower is required to write to higher, which is an impossible starting point for creative critical thought; reading is constrained so as to allow for easy marking; and all production and evaluation of learning is subject to the mastery of the lecturer. A democratic classroom, in contrast, operates horizontally: promotes open-ended discussion, allows the emergence of different nodes of knowledge production, allows different stories to co-exist, encourages and sustains peer learning, community connections outside the classroom, and configures the lecturer as a coach learning along-side the students rather than as a gate-keeper. A democratic classroom practice allows the possibility of new knowledge through the dialogic engagement of every member in the room. It allows all students to learn democratic habits of discussion: how to actively listen, how to reason, how to disagree without resorting to insult or violence, how to produce and sustain democracy.

This production of independent, critical scholars is implicit in Writing Intensive (WI) courses which the Wits Writing Centre has been promoting and piloting across the university. This intervention needs to be formalized, with clear criteria and monitoring structures, but there is already a wide interest and commitment across disciplines because of its obvious value in promoting better thinking and writing and in addressing transformation issues.

WI courses are an adaptation of an existing course so as to focus on the specific thinking skills that a course seeks to teach. Such courses are not about coverage so much as about learning how to think within the discipline, These skills are built through regular and sustained writing, formal and informal, and through other forms of active learning. They need to provide considerable and continuing feedback, which can be partly provided by specifically trained postgraduate tutors called Writing Fellows.

These Writing Fellows have been particularly successful in altering power relations in the classroom. They work closely both with the lecturer, allowing her to rethink her goals and methods and be explicit about what she understands as good writing and thinking within the discipline, and with the students, allowing them to rehearse and think through their arguments, which they might not have dared to try to articulate to the lecturer. The Writing Fellows model the emerging scholar to the students, who can then produce among themselves the roles and relationships required in the construction of a new academy. These Writing Fellows may be seen as  apprentices, learning the processes of teaching and scholarship from the lecturer. They are thus in an excellent position to be considered as candidates for fast tracking into academic positions.

Successful implementation of transformation requires attention to the politics of pedagogy. A WI programme offers a way to formally and coherently do so through requiring designated and monitored WI courses across the disciplines. This strategy does not require the construction of new courses or the hiring of new staff, though it does need support for the Writing Fellows, who would also contribute to the second transformation goal of developing emerging teachers and scholars. The strategy must recognise that such teaching requires more work and more preparation from the lecturer. Typically in American universities WI courses are understood as counting as double the normal teaching load. With careful formalization, compensation for lecturers and for Writing Fellows, faculty-wide monitoring through Faculty Writing Boards, WI courses could not only improve the culture of writing at Wits but also play a crucial role in our transition towards engaged and transformed classrooms.

 

 

Transformation conversation

Dear VC,

I am assuming that you intended the transformation conversation to be real rather than rhetorical, so here is my response. I think it is a good conversation for Wits to have, provided that it conforms to what we claim to promote: a reasoned debate, rather than a capitulation to the most strident and recalcitrant view.

I rejoined Wits, after 24 years at CSIR, partly because I had hoped to move beyond a superficial phase of transformation– beyond the endless arguments about race-based classifications and numerical representivity – and it was my impression that Wits (unlike the CSIR and other universities) had got to that space. White scholars of my generation have been in this transformation process our whole adult life: first as students, then as young academics, then as not-so-young practitioners. In many instances, we were at the vanguard of pushing this agenda, and carrying the burden. Which makes it distinctly irritating to be dismissed as a reactionary in an unquestioned narrative which casts white males as the problem.

Obtuse jargon (‘racial essentialism’) gets in the way of the conversation, as does throw-away categories like ‘mainstream liberalism’. Does that include me, I ask myself? How mainstream do I have to be? Leaving aside the reflexive scorn of the card-carrying left, when did it become such a bad thing to be liberal, which I understand to be a belief in the worth of individuals? This university was largely built on liberal values and the rejection of race as a valid category for evaluating the worth of a person. Small wonder there is pushback against another manifestation of race-based prejudice.

Overall, I find myself disagreeing quite frequently with your discussion of the problem, but finding your proposed solutions broadly acceptable: indeed, as you point out yourself, most of them are existing policy and practice.

I do agree that the core issue is the composition of the academic staff. The other issues are tangential, but will be an ongoing distraction unless dealt with, so here are a few comments.

On outsourcing. The usual core rationale for outsourcing is efficiency rather than sticking one to the workers, though that may be a practical outcome. Outsourcing is the basis on which post-neolithic civilization is built: the idea that people do specialized tasks better, and so collectively we can achieve more if we each do what we are best at. The university does not grow the food we eat in the residences or pipe the water we drink – we are happy to outsource many things. The problem is therefore not an absolute one, but a question of what should be in and what should be out. The managerial dogma on this is that core business (ie research and teaching) is in, everything else is out. My experience of this is that the promised benefits often do not arise from such a purist approach. It tend to be more pragmatic: if it is an essential service which you use on a permanent, fully-occupied basis, it is best in. But this seems to me more of a management decision than a principled one. The university cannot fix all the problems of society. We should be grateful that the student body cares about working people, but that cannot be the only basis on which we make such decisions.

On African content. It seems to me that this complaint comes from a very specific range of subjects. I have never heard it as a serious issue in the Sciences, Engineering, Law, Health or Commerce contexts, for various reasons. For some (think mathematics), the subject is pretty universal, and the same curriculum is taught in Mongolia as in Malawi. For others (think Law, or ecology), context is so critical  that it has always been taught with an African emphasis. Scholars of my generation were conscientised by NUSAS to think of ourselves as African rather than European, and our work and teaching has for four decades been informed by that. This is one of our strengths in a globally-competitive context. I think that the general practice on this issue is way ahead of what the complainants perceive: they are either narrow in their experience, or ignorant, or disingenuous.

On racism. You are unlikely to get much disagreement that racism is not to be tolerated, but as I am sure you are aware, it is very hard to tease apart malicious racism from the many other factors which go into decisions and behaviours. So you have to set really quite a high burden of proof. Merely being perceived to be racist, or pointed out as a racist, is not enough, or we get into a witch-hunt. I think we need to couple a strong shared commitment to abhor racism – from all sides – with a renewed effort to teach tolerance.

On academic staff profile. The university hired me as a professor of Systems Ecology. What I miss from the discussion is a systems-based viewpoint. Without launching into a lecture on the topic, there are two critical missing elements. The first is a proper consideration of time. I assume-perhaps wrongly- that both poles of opinion which you posit actually desire the same final outcome – a situation where race is no longer an issue – but they differ on how soon that can be used as an operating rule. Change in something  that depends not only on supply, but on how long it takes to form that something, and what its longevity is. In the case of senior academics, evidence from around the world and our own experience is that the time-constant of academic change is generational. I see a great deal of change over my lifetime. Others see stonewalling. The second element is feedback loops: specifically the positive feedback from quality of teaching and research to the rate and depth to which transformation occurs. Translated, this means if you move too fast, you end up retarding the whole enterprise. I believe that we need to continue to promote diversity in our teaching staff, along many axes of diversity, using active rather than only passive strategies (within reason and within a limited timeframe), but always subject to the broad overarching consideration of our mission, which is to be a sustainably excellent teaching and research institution. I don’t think we do our young black staff any favours by putting them on a special fast track or relieving them of their fair share of duties: we should as a general principle be promoting all people of outstanding talent and making it possible for them to get ahead.

I hope this helps. I don’t expect a personalized response.

Bob Scholes

 

 

Transformation at Wits: Disability

Dear Prof. Habib

The Disability Interest Group (DIG) supports your commendable efforts in Transformation at Wits and would like to take you up on your request to communicate with you since disability also falls under the mandate of transformation. As disabled members and students at Wits, we believe that it is critical that disability is also appropriately addressed along with all other areas of transformation. Our SA Constitution strives to inculcate an inclusive mind-set towards all vulnerable people who deserve to be treated with dignity and have the right to be recognised and function as participating members of society. It has been shown that disability is the one area of transformation that has not changed significantly in the South African workplace. This principle behind the SA Constitution guides the overarching policy framework of inclusion at Wits by underpinning the protection of people with disabilities.

As DIG members, we would like to bring to your attention that Wits should be doing more to promote the equity and social justice of persons with disabilities. In particular, there are four constitutional rights – dignity, equality, freedom and Ubuntu that need to be addressed. In order to meet these rights, Wits has a responsibility as a HEI to empower all staff members and students, able-bodied and disabled, to succeed through innovative universal-designed environments for working and learning. The changes required to make Wits a world-class disability-friendly HEI is not limited to ensuring physical access only but also includes access to information and technology. In addition, it requires a committed focus on dismantling the attitudinal barriers towards people with disabilities at Wits.

Thank you for all your efforts in addressing transformation at Wits and for your willingness to allow open and honest discussions with you over these matters. It would be appreciated if you could also prioritize disability in order to show that Wits is a true barrier-breaker and leader in inclusion and transformation of disabled students and staff in the SA HEI landscape. The DIG endeavours to partner with you in offering our insight and services and energy to making Wits a disability-friendly space of learning.

Kind regards,
Members of the Disability Interest Group
Sent by Duncan Yates on behalf of DIG as secretariat of the group

 

 

Transformation

Dear Prof

I apologise – I need to leave the discussions now.

I did not have time to give my opinion but here it is:

I agree that the whites should be forming a core part of this transformation process. The majority of us really want to make transformation work and would love to embrace diversity – it is just that we do not know how we can contribute to the solution. We walk around with a feeling of guilt especially on days such as Freedom day where everybody is celebrating freedom while us whites are acknowledging the fact that our ancestors did things that we do not agree with.

Whites have scars as well. We neat to become healed in order to participate in transformation.

Well done for initiating this conversation.

Benita Olivier

 

 

Response to ‘Opening the Conversation’

The basic premise of this impressive analysis by the VC is fundamentally correct: that the two dangerous extremes in the discourse on Transformation – classical liberal colour blindness and racialised African nationalism – would both be lethal to the University. I believe the VC should be supported in the steps he is proposing; my comments come from that perspective.

Let me begin by saying that Wits’ most valuable asset is the talent and confidence of its student body, which displays a nuance of thoughtful opinion that has thus far not been reflected in the debate. Any programme of Transformation should take account of the diversity and complexity of student attitudes and aspirations. That is as important for the growth of institutional culture as anything else. From my experience of student discussions in a very large first-year class, I question the assumption that being ‘Africa-centred’, to use a rather hackneyed phrase, is a desire universally shared by students. Students do want to learn about Africa and African thinking, but not at the expense of expanding their intellectual horizons. Many of them get tired of well-intentioned analyses of colonialism and postcolonialism that tend to place the black person in the position of the victim. They do not understand their own identities as in the first instance being determined by a past of racially oppressive structures.

First-year teaching can be in danger of strengthening patterns of potential polarisation amongst students. The first-year class is not only the place where subject-oriented teaching happens; it is the place where one has to start building an intellectual and moral community. This often requires conscious intervention aimed at suppressing the hyper-confidence of white students and creating space for a range of opinion to be heard, including opinions from black students to whom the Wits academic environment may be alienating and terrifying. This should be done with no condescension. First-year students should be confronted by difficult ideas and the challenge of mastering them, and by the persuasion that ultimately it is the quality of argument that matters to us, and should matter to them.

It is from this that one can see emerging a range of informed and confident – and non-racialised – opinion. I recently asked my first-year class to debate the merits of removing the Rhodes statue from the UCT campus. The first view to be expressed very cogently was that no statue should ever be removed because that would be an empty symbolic act in light of the challenge of fully coming to terms with the past. The student was applauded. Her view was countered eloquently by a second student, who argued that the the signifying power of the statue’s location was the real problem: she would have placed it elsewhere on campus, and contextualised it. Both these students were black.

I fully agree with all the steps proposed to increase the number of black staff at Wits and to improve their career and promotion prospects. Here it must be recognised that Wits having upped the ante in terms of research and postgraduate degree requirements puts a huge strain on new academics, but particularly on those who also have to adjust to a difficult environment. But there is a much more awkward question that must be asked. Why do black academics so often marginalise themselves? Why is it that black academics who feel disaffected by the predominance of a supposedly ‘white’ culture do not take up that challenge ‘in the corridor’? Why is that in the face of this situation, we have seen so few examples of proposals for meaningful reform in one of the areas where this matters most: the curriculum?

Given the complexity of racial dynamics in South Africa, I would propose that the only reason for this is not that established white academics do not support, or actively suppress, such initiatives. It is also because the debate on such issues tends to be dominated by articulate and sometimes resentful spokespeople who minimise the complexities of the discussion we surely must have. It may very well be that some black academics are less afraid of marginalisation in their own institutions than they are of being branded as collaborators by advocates of political correctness. We all have to confront our demons – and in the case of African academics, some of those demons are not whites with colonial attitudes.

This relates to a fundamental problem in debates around Transformation – something that one must hope is capable of being changed. It is that debates on Transformation a priori defines us as racial beings whereas in daily interaction that often turns out to be of much less importance than others kinds of differences. This is one reason why I found myself unable to attend the racially segregated  meetings the VC recently organised for staff.

Finally, a few minor comments:

I think it is a bad idea to have the progress of candidates for advancement being personally overseen by the Dean (page 5). This arrangement would have too many negative associations attached to it: that Heads of School can’t be trusted; that the members of staff need some special help from the Dean as a super-mother or -father. It contradicts the ultimate aim that these things should happen where it matters most – ‘in the corridor’.

Secondly, it would be a bad idea to introduce a mandatory course on SA’s history, citizenship, civic sense and a broader sense of ethics. This sounds too much like Blade Nzimande. Isolating such important matters from what happens in the classroom on a daily basis immediately delivers the message that this it not real stuff. Moreover, our first-year students come to Wits having survived a subject that sound similar to this and has no intellectual credibility whatsoever: Life Orientation.

Finally, the VC has my sympathies in not acceding to the request to insource activities that have been outsourced. I would be surprised if any support is found in the Department of Higher Education and Training for increasing subsidies to help pay for insourcing. So the dilemma is likely to remain. It is in the final analysis morally unacceptable to have to share a campus with workers who are exploited.

Gerrit Olivier

Wits School of Arts, 2 June 2015

 

Transformation Input

Vice Chancellor,

I welcome and applaud this initiative and for extending it to the Wits community outside campus. My input is on #1 and #2. The others I’m happy.

#1. Diversifying academic staff : My suggestion is this process must be partnered with increase intake of black postgraduates. Financial support must be extended to part time postgrads too as an incentive to achieve this. It is very important to roll out the task of a diverse staff to all varsities nationally so as to counter the habit of academics job-hopping simply because they are anti- transformation.

#2. Curriculum (+ institution culture) : The university must also increase their participation in the local Joburg community. As a university we must lead in solving the daily challenges of the greater Jo’burg community, whether it’s potholes, petty crime, access to ICT etc. This should be done through a cross-faculty platform, meaning curriculum must be open to cross-faculty cooperation on real daily issues. This will help the university to be more in-touch with the community and the reverse.

I support this call to transform the university.

Kind Regards,
Tefo Tshidiso Marabutse
Class of 2012.

 

 

Contribution to transformation

Dear Adam

I agree with your position in general but I do have difficulty with the language used which seems to cause confusion even amongst colleagues in the Humanities – I refer to “racial essentialism” which generated at least 3 definitions in the  Great Hall meeting earlier this month. Interestingly there was an article in the International New York Times (Weds June 3 2015) by David Brooks entitled Activists on Crusade and I agree with many of the points he made. “ The problem is that the campus activities have moral fervour, but don’t always have settled philosophies to restrain the fervour of their emotions. Settled philosophies are meant to (but obviously don’t always) instill a limiting sense of humility, a deference to the complexity and multifaceted nature of reality. But many of today’s activists are forced to rely on a relatively simple social theory. According to this theory, the dividing lines between good and evil are starkly clear. The essential conflict is between the traumatized purity of the victim and the verbal violence of the oppressor. According to this theory, the ultimate source of authority is not some hard-to-understand truth. It is everybody’s personal feelings. A crime occurs when someone feels a hurt triggered, or when someone feels disagreed with or unsafe.” We have many cases where we hear “I was feeling bombarded/hurt/abused/discriminated against”. I think that there is too much tolerance of accusations, often racial, which have no grounds. You have said that you would follow up cases where you found that unjustified slurs had been made – your actions in this area need to be more visible.

I think that in many Schools but especially in the Faculty of Humanities, there is an overwhelming sense of negativity. Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to ignorance. I would like to suggest that we create a “Group of positive, enthusiastic academics – who are prepared to Mentor senior postgrads and emerging researchers”. I have often given workshops in my own programme or within CLTD and the participants approach me afterwards and thank me for informing them in such a positive and enthusiastic manner. Many often comment that all they hear day in and out are moans. I am happy to work with others to take this idea forward if you think it is useful.

Regards
Prof. Mary Scholes
Director: Postgraduate Affairs

 

 

Responses from Wits alumni on LinkedIn

https://www.linkedin.com/grp/post/76204-6011774329556131844

 

 

 

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