Mailbox: UCT ‘gags’ noisy professor as #Fallist fiasco continues making headlines

Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe

Emeritus Professor Timothy Crowe is a firm believer in enjoying his right under the Constitution to freedom of expression. In recent months, he has been taking on the bigwigs at the University of Cape Town (UCT) over their handling of ugly student demonstrations for free tuition and the decolonisation of higher education. In this piece, he claims that UCT’s marketing and public relations machinery is no longer airing his views through the university’s media channels. Attempts have also been made to bully Crowe into silence, with one group of pro-decolonisation students branding him a “racist” and “killer of black people”. Cut through the details of the debate raging between various parties at the university and it is clear that Crowe is ultimately concerned with the quality and reputation of the institution to which his name has been attached throughout his successful academic career. From a distance, Crowe appears rational, if steadfast, in his campaign to be heard as a voice of reason, while those who seek to pacify student campaigners by ignoring their antisocial, illegal and irrational rantings diminish in stature. In the meantime, it’s no secret that many of the better university academics who have opportunities to work elsewhere, and would prefer an environment where they are respected and appreciated regardless of skin colour, are scanning the globe to see what jobs are on offer. – Jackie Cameron

By Emeritus Professor Timothy Crowe*

The ‘reborn’ University of Cape Town (UCT): a birth to be celebrated or a tragic abortion?

I am surprised that Dr Russell Ally has published his controversial and provocative piece Not the death-knell but the birth pangs of a new inclusive UCT.   

With the unabated Fallist triumphs culminating in:

  1. the humiliating Agreement of November 6
  2. the invader-sabotaged AGM of the UCT Convocation
  3. the forthcoming Fallist-dominated Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Committee

I would have thought that he would have let the ‘transformational tsunami’ run its full course and let his ‘new’ UCT be ‘born’ and flourish.

In any event, thank you Dr Ally, because, other than your opening message vis-à-vis UCT’s racist past, virtually none of your spin-filled piece has factual support.

Zapiro’s take on the UCT student protests – for more of the cartoonist’s magic, click here.

Contrary to Ally’s account, the Convocation AGM did not have “to be aborted”. After it was sabotaged by UCT-Executive-unopposed, illegal invaders. It was strategically stopped by the chairperson seconds after a carefully timed motion by Executive-supporter Hugh Corder. This act stifled discussion of the possibility of consulting UCT alumni broadly on the issue of the Executive’s negotiating with lawbreakers.

Furthermore, by merely saying that “there are staff and students who feel traumatized and alienated” Ally deliberately understates the reality that the vast “silenced majority” of the UCT Community was brutalized by a lawbreaking “malevolent minority”.

Had the Executive stood by UCT’s fundamental principles and insisted that protesters respect the rule of law, nothing would have had to “be curtailed”, “disrupted”, “suspended” or “deferred”. There is no “perceive[d] deepening crisis” at UCT. It is a reality that the Panglossian Executive refuses to accept.

Ally says that it’s “important to maintain perspective”. Whose perspective?

Ph.D.-educated historian Ally pronounces that: “The University of Cape Town is not an island unto itself”.  Even a cursory investigation into its history supports the opposite conclusion. From the late-1950s throughout the balance of the Apartheid, it was exactly that. Read Prof./Dr. Stuart Saunders’ autobiography! Nothing’s changed.

He further asserts: “UCT can[not] somehow completely on its own rise above the crisis that higher education is facing in the country and restore “normalcy” to the campus”. In fact, with visionary leadership based on anti-race/sexism underpinned by the rule of law, I am totally convinced that this is indeed possible if its entire community were consulted and bought into the process.

Ally then goes into high-spin-mode by decrying a ‘normal’, peaceful, functional, “pristine” UCT as a “misguided but also foolhardy” goal because it depends on having “a very different demographic profile” “reinforced” by “police and security”. 

In fact, all that was needed to achieve this goal was for the lawbreaker Fallists to cease their nefarious activities or be stopped from doing so. 

Price/Ally’s ‘solution’ has been to ‘defer’ to the “present-day realities” of illegal intimidation, violence and wanton destruction.

Ally then returns to the real world when he characterizes “the old-UCT [as] reflect[ing] the white historical privilege” that relegated “black people who were permitted to enter its hallowed doors … as sojourners”. If, by “Old UCT”, he means pre-Saunders, he is 100% correct. I was there as junior member of staff. But, in the late 1970s, even before he became VC, Saunders acted decisively to undermine race-based exclusionism at UCT.  His successors, including Price, have only reinforced this policy.

What is most important is that, concomitant with this reduction of exclusionism, Saunders uncompromisingly promoted massive development in academic excellence for ALL at UCT.  This development has continued during the post-Apartheid inclusionary era to the great benefit of the entire UCT student community.

There is no evidence that the Fallist-dominated Institutional Reconciliation Transformation Commission will maintain this policy of excellence if it conflicts with ’decolonization’.

Indeed, Ally highlights this concern when he refers to the need “to interrogate the very notion of excellence itself, which is not without its own contradictions and limitations”. To my view, there is no need to do anything about excellence except demand it across the board.

Then he refers to commentators like myself, Thomas Johnson, Mike Monson, Prof. Philip Lloyd, Andrew Kenny and Prof. David Benatar as ‘hogging” the headlines and focusing on “spectacle” and not “substance” of the issues. 

Two responses to this. 

First, if required to do so, I can tally who’s publishing what and show that Ally is wrong in identifying the real ‘hogs’. UCT’s powerful Communication and Marketing Department has made sure that pro-Price/Fallist pieces feature strongly in the UCT press and the social media. It has also begun to refuse to publish my commentaries/rebuttals.

Second, and most importantly, one needs only to compare the many reports on the sabotaged Convocation AGM to see who’s talking “substance“ vs “spectacle”.

Perhaps the most “spectacle” free version is UCT Registrar (and Convocation Secretary) Royston Pillay’s internal e-mail of 28 December. He describes the invasion as “unexpected” and made no mention of the invaders’ vulgarity, total lack of respect and hate-speech.

“Progressive alumna” Ms Lorna Houston et al. actually praise the invaders, describing their behaviour as “engag[ing] in robust critique” that has been “devalued and decontextualized”. They go even further, stating that the post-apartheid “UCT system managed to “disappear” and exclude many capable black staff; and instead nurtured mainly capable white staff by providing support, mentoring and the transmission of social capital to negotiate the system”. In addition to providing not a shred of evidence for this defamation, they provide no way to mend or replace the ‘system’. It just must be “dismantled”. Their and the lawbreaking Fallists’ position is based on a single premise:

“The past is still present.”  But, now the racism is “invisible”. 

Houston et al. call for “dialogue”, “engagement” and “all voices being heard”. However, no one who has chronicled this event (even them) has described the invaders (of the AGM and other venues) as being interested in anything other than disruption and suppression of adversarial viewpoints. Houston et al. also fail to chronicle hate speech. This is telling, because Ms Houston was sitting in front of me when an interrupting invader shouted, describing me as: “racist” and “Jim Crow”, “apartheid activist” and “killer of black people”.  Adv Geoffrey Budlender sat silently two seats away when this Fallist “robust critique” took place. [By the way, Ms Houston has been selected  – above myself and Budlender – by the Alumni Advisory Board – chaired by unabashed pro-Price Dianna Yach – to serve on the IRTC Steering Committee representing UCT’s 100000+ alumni.]

Ratcheting “substance” up a notch, UCT postgrad Mike Monson:

  1. counted the invaders (+-9 vs 400+ largely aged alumni),
  2. described them as a “small, noisy, violent mob” granted “influence [by the Executive] which is far beyond what it merits”effectively hold[ing] the institution to ransom”,
  3. identified the recently indemnified Chumani Maxwele and the topless woman who repeatedly obstructed speakers;
  4. further identified ”a faction of academics seeking accelerated career advancement by jumping on the decolonisation bandwagon”,
  5. concluded that invaders took over and disrupted the meeting “shouting down the speakers and forcefully occupying the stage”,
  6. disparaged “their disdain for the cultural norms of the institution and those present”, and
  7. speculated ”that the Dr Price administration has been tactically devious in its legitimising of this protest group inasmuch as they now have an instrument to shut down any attempts at conducting debates that might hold the administration to account and censure”.

Prof. Philip Lloyd and several other ‘retrogressive alumni’ echo Monson’s negative views on the invaders, but take even stronger issue with Houston et al. They liken their support of the Fallist “radical flank” to Nazism.

GroundUp editor Nathan Geffen’s article takes a different tack. First, he reiterates Advocate Geoffrey Budlender’s miss-statement that my motion called for the resignation/dismissal of Vice Chancellor Max Price and his deputy VCs. He also was the first to point out an invader’s use of hate speech when law academic Cathy Powell’s attempt to speak was suppressed by invaders with “Shut up bitch”. 

The battle over #Fallist demands grows ever uglier at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Perhaps more interestingly were the appended letters of commentary on Geffen’s piece.

Clinton Herring’s describes Price as “seriously engaging” with invader Chumani Maxwele, minutes after the latter had shouted (interrupting Budlender) that I was a “known racist”.

My letter

  1. reiterated Monson’s impression the Executive were expecting (even condoning) invasion,
  2. showed that Budlender et al. deliberately miss-represented my motion to prevent its hearing, and
  3. identified particularly nasty hate speech (“racist” and “Jim Crow”, “apartheid activist” and “killer of black people”) directed against me by invaders.

The balance of Ally’s piece is resplendent with platitudes such as deploring violence and the need for mutual respect/tolerance/dialogue.  With regard to traditions, his key point is that they “need to change”.

But, this should not prevent future donations from alumni and others to the re-born UCT.

  • Professor Tim Crowe is a descendant of oppressed Irish freedom-fighters from the United States working class. He is a first generation university graduate, non-settler immigrant alumnus, Elected Fellow and emeritus (40 years’ service) professor at the University of Cape Town. He is a Ph.D.-educated expert on evolutionary biology (covering everything from ‘race’ to deeply rooted evolutionary trees) and conservation biology (especially regarding sustainable and economically viable use of wildlife). He has published nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers/books and is regarded as the world’s leading authority on game birds (chickens, turkeys, guinea fowls, etc.). About 70 of his graduated students have published their research and established themselves in their own right, including four professors.
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