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A battle for the reputation and academic future of the University of Cape Town is being waged behind closed doors. Taking on UCT Vice-Chancellor Max Price is Emeritus Professor Timothy Crowe, who is clearly not going to back down – and is uncowed by UCT’s responses to his challenges. Crowe has raised his concerns about UCT in public. He has tabled a motion of no confidence within the university’s structures. This has yet to be voted on. Ultimately, Crowe would like UCT to change the way it is handling demands by #Fallists – students who have been protesting violently for free tuition and the decolonisation of higher education. Recently, UCT Council and Alumni Advisory Board member Dianna Yach distributed a piece to the media in which she took on on Crowe. Here’s Crowe’s riposte.- Jackie Cameron
By Emeritus Professor Timothy Crowe
Max Price’s deal with Fallists betrays the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) core values.
Why on this important issue does Max Price not speak for himself?
In the past, he has often used Gerda Kruger, Pat Lucas, Elijah Moholola, Judith du Toit, one of the four DVCs and Russell Ally as his mouthpieces. Now there is Dianna Yach. I can understand using the well-paid first nine, none of those posts have been culled during the recent “austerity programme”, despite the imminent departure of three DVCs. They are subordinate to him within UCT and never openly disagree with him.
But why rope in Ms Yach, a member of UCT’s Council and Alumni Advisory Board (in fact its chairperson)? These are bodies set up to review/oversee the Executive’s actions and, where necessary, to remonstrate with it. With regard to the Council, I’ve not heard/read of it supporting departing from resolutely supporting Academic Freedom and anything other than deprecating those who undermine the rule of law. With regard to alumni, Ms Yach led last year’s alumni roadshow designed to gather opinions on recent events on campus. I would be amazed to hear an objective report back that didn’t include significant concern about the Executive’s persistent capitulation to lawbreaking protesters who desecrate/destroy symbols of UCT’s heritage, defame its students/staff and Nelson Mandela and undermine its academic processes and Academic Freedom.
But, all we have is Ms Yach’s personal opinion.
In my capacity as emeritus professor with 40 years of service, a supervisor of 70 graduates who have published their research and had careers, an Elected UCT Fellow and a UCT alumnus, I object to her using UCT’s powerful media/communications team to promote her and Price’s personal views. Tactics like this make a mockery of what UCT has stands for and the check-and-balance structures set up to ensure its proper functioning.
But, in a decolonizing UCT, that counts for nothing.
Now to the specifics of Yach’s “lashing out against my ignorant, derogatory rhetoric”.
First, what in my credentials and/or current writings demonstrates that I have missed or mis-represented anything?
Second, if, by “derogatory” and “disparaging rhetoric”, she implies that I “express a low opinion”, the answer is yes. If, however, she wishes to portray me as acting in an “insulting or hurtful ” or “dishonest or unreasonable” way, no. I bear Max Price no ill will.
Yet, her unsubstantiated descriptions depict the Executive’s actions as:
- being based on “careful consideration”,
- “effect[ing] necessary change”,
- using “informed input from experts”,
- “consult[ing] across the spectrum of stakeholders” and “the various constituencies involved”.
Could these not qualify as rhetoric? Indeed, Price and his Special Executive Task Team have “worked in isolation”, engaging primarily with unelected ‘negotiators’ including lawbreakers.
Third, she attributes what ails UCT to “a serious financial crisis, caused primarily by the shortfall in government subsidies” and the perfidy of “outsourcing”. When, after “careful consideration” the Executive ‘insourced’ the ‘outsourced’ (further exacerbating the financial “crisis”), the protests got worse. When President Zuma agreed to freeze fees, they got worse still. When (according to the Executive), there was a minor glitch vis-à-vis student accommodation, buildings were invaded, individuals were assaulted, roads were blocked, classes were disrupted, vehicles, artworks and offices were defaced/burned (including Price’s office), all at considerable cost.
So much for “consultation” between the Executive and protesters ameliorating matters financial and solving UCT’s problems.
The fundamental causes of the academic “pain” and “suffocation” at UCT are its failure to provide masses of what Fanon described as psycho-educationally ‘disabled’, poverty-stricken students with the educational experience they need to fulfil their dreams. Only a small fraction of these kids succeed in the allotted time. More money, regardless of its source, hasn’t helped so far and won’t in the future.
Fourth, thanks for the unpublished news that the “vast majority of the voluntary separation and early retirement packages have been taken up not by academics but by professional and administrative support services staff”. Please make these details available by department and staff type. But, before one student-supervising academic is allowed to leave without being replaced, please provide a list of staff who do not who are kept on, in spite of their not delivering the educational ‘goods’.
Fifth, she provides a Price-quote that refers to an “annual surplus” that has “funded new strategies”. Please provide examples of these and demonstrate how they helped ‘disabled’ students succeed. Price also refers to an “austerity programme” (resulting in fewer academic staff?) that “will enable us (who?) to immediately increase (how?) the surplus” and help these students. It would also be great to see some examples of these new, “greater efficiencies” that do not result in loss of essential academic staff.
Sixth, I accept “that the major underlying cause for financial crisis in the university sector is the poor state of government subsidies”. But, how does this dismiss my argument that the insourcing strategy implemented also significantly contributed to the “crisis”?
Seventh, she presents positive statistics for recent research based on ratings by South Africa’s National Research Foundation’s internationally acclaimed Research Rating System. I quote eminent UCT alumnus and public intellectual Thomas Johnson to deal, in part, with this. “The full potential effect of a disastrous 2016, which took off where 2015’s protests left off, will be apparent in the near future.” The results she reports are a culmination of work that began 5-10 years ago. The rotten NRF-fruits of 2016 will only be ‘plucked’ 5 years down the line.
Price is not a fan of the NRF’s system, viewing it as follows: “the jury is still out”. On that score, rather than following Adam Habib’s insistence that appointments/promotions be linked to NRF Rating, he supports keeping on retirees (mainly ‘old white guys’) who retain their ratings.
Let me also summarize Johnson’s overall assessment of Price/UCT.
“I’ve been appalled, embarrassed, stupefied – the list of adjectives is long – at UCT’s and Price’s and management’s dissolution from sober, responsible, rational, etc. to cowardice, appeasement and irrationality, and worst of all, condescension for thinking the public are stupid. Ultimately, all we have left is our reputation and integrity when all else is gone. UCT’s has been stripped away by self-centred, privileged Fallist brats, most of whom should not be there, and a management and council who ought to be ashamed of what they’ve allowed.”
Maybe he’s an alumnus that Ms Yach missed during her roadshow.
Eighth, she focuses on the Next Generation Professoriate, a programme to ‘fast-track’ UCT academics with “high potential” to achieve promotion to professor, but do not meet the existing criteria. Eminent Prof. Robert Morrell, its coordinator, argues that:
“Promotions in the past were often poorly understood and quite secretive processes. They were rightly suspected of nepotism, the influence of old boys’ clubs and racist and sexist bias.”
He maintains that “new processes” be implemented that take a “more balance view” so that a candidate weak in, e.g. research, may still be promoted if s/he shines in another factor. He doesn’t elaborate on what these factors might be, but others offer “historical, cultural and linguistic knowledge”.
I attempted to debate Morrell, taking the position that full-professors have to be BOTH outstanding educators and researchers. unfortunately, he has yet to receive permission from the UCT Executive to engage in public debate.
So much for academic transparency/freedom and “upholding the high standards we [UCT] are known for”.
“Following a restorative justice model while engaging different points of view is the most reasonable way forward in the difficult circumstances facing universities. This is the approach taken by UCT’s executive, with positive effect.”
Yet, lawbreakers involved with torching R700 000 of artwork have, once again (with the approval of UCT?), had charges dropped against them without apologizing for their acts and/or showing remorse.
So much for restorative justice.
What are the “different points of view”? The key and potentially most dangerous one is ‘decolonization’. For more on this, watch this space.
To close, like Allister Coetzee, Max Price has “lost the change room”.
Catch up on what’s been happening behind-the-scenes at UCT here:
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