Thursday, 25 May 2017

Why is UCT looking to expand its African-based research?

Why is UCT looking to expand its African-based research?

The latest message from the University of Cape Town starts with assertions that are vague at best and probably incorrect.   If by “premier educational institution” the author and Vice-chancellor Dr Max Price mean it’s producing the large numbers of graduates who become socio-economic ‘drivers’ (rather than parasitic ‘passengers’), the statistics are not encouraging.  Many of students admitted to UCT (>50%) never complete even a bachelors’ degree.  Many who do so: fail to complete their undergraduate education in three years, do so with less than stellar achievement; and accrue large, frequently unpaid, debt.  This handicaps, if not cripples, them in a competitive ‘real world’.   Perhaps this is why UCT is now ranked below the University of the Witwatersrand internationally.  It’s a slippery slope.  Simply joining an ‘international alliance’ dedicated to produce “future world leaders” is rhetoric in the absence of delivery.  The reality appears (to me anyway) that my alma mater/employer for 40+ years has shifted its vision from ‘delusions of grandeur’ to ‘aspirations of mediocracy’.  The wonderful news items proudly displayed in UCT IN THE NEWS are produced by the ‘silent majority’ not bent on intimidation.  [By the way, why is the Debate Section of this official mouthpiece of UCT once again suppressed?]

What do they mean by “African-based research”?  If this simply restricts comparison to universities only within a continent in crisis, it is a sad day indeed.  What is needed is world-class research that can help to deal with this crisis.  The news on this score is also not encouraging.  Some faculties at UCT conspicuously fail to require the use of (or provide viable alternatives to) nationally and internationally recognized metrics of recent research achievement (rating by the National Research Foundation and h-indices) when hiring and ad-hominem promoting professors.  Indeed, there have been proposals to use un-peer-reviewed, often defamatory, public intellectual publications in newspapers and the cyber-media as evidence of research achievement.

Then the message stresses the all-encompassing issue of human ‘races’, arguably the vilest of all ‘concepts’.   In the same sentence that the author uses the word “leader”, she seems to be compelled to use the word “black”.  What is meant by “black” and why use the term?  Why not use the word “oppressed” or the term “socio-economically disabled”.  With regard to the “what” part of the question, do the author/Price mean BCM/Biko Black: =  Apartheid non-white?  Or, do they restrict the term to people who resemble pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africans?  Current demographic partitioning seems to favour (depending on the political goal) a splitting into ‘proper Africans’, ‘Coloureds/KhoiSan’ and Indians.  With regard to the “why” part of the question, it is difficult to divorce this ‘strategy’ from the demographic policies employed in Nazi Germany to exclude Jewish and other minorities.  In any event, this is morally and academically repugnent and scarily reminiscent of volkekunde.  It most definitely does not resonate “themes from Nelson Mandela” or the world’s most non-racial constitution.

Dr Price outlines plans “to increase the amount of research”, implying that ‘more is better’.  What is needed in more innovative, world-beating and Afrocentrically relevant research.  He is correct when he concludes that achieving this real goal currently requires ‘internationalization’.  Of course, the big danger of this strategy is to increase the emigration rate of our best-and-brightest to the developed world and UCT’s dependence on international collaboration at the expense of growing its own capacity and human ‘timber’.

Dr Price constantly promotes the ‘idea’ of UCT as a “research university”.  Yet, for at least 25 years, UCT has ‘progressively’ increased the numbers of highly paid, centralized, non-academic administrators and non-research ‘academics’.  When I joined UCT in the 1970s, there were no deputy vice-chancellors or deputy registrars assisted by a myriad of underlings and ‘communication officers’, and academic development was done within academic departments.  Now, UCT has an entire faculty devoted to academic development and which has “designed academic programs that do not just look at marks or admission tests, but provide different ways of assessing student potential to help them pass".  The abovementioned measures of educational success of these “programs” are not ‘affirmative’.  This reality is exploited heavily by the leaderless, violent/destructive, academically incoherent “MustFall” groups.  On top of this, traditional academic departments are being required to cut down on the number of active academic researchers and support staff and curricula are to be “investigated” to divest them of ‘colonial’ and “Eurocentric’ elements.  No mention is made of what is to replace them other than to encourage cross-disciplinary ‘inclusionism’.   The danger here is that our graduates could become academic ‘jerks-of-all-trades’.

If adopting a racially based educational and research policy were not bad enough, why focus on attracting “black American students to apply to UCT”?  Price’s answer is to help them ”rediscover some of their ancestral history”.   What about targeting kids from other African and developing countries, especially those, e.g. India and Singapore, that have made the transition from colonies to success stories?  Of course, there are also ‘black nationalists’ who will not welcome any infusion of American culture into South Africa, regardless of ‘racial identity’.

Staying with ‘race’, by aggressively promoting the concept of “Black Lives Matter”, the UCT Executive has, by default, taken the position that ‘Non-black’ lives don’t matter.  ALL lives matter!  By its aggressive promotion of the use of “trigger warnings”, the censorship/removal of ‘offensive’ artworks and symbols, the expurgation of invited speakers and the creation of “safe spaces” (mini-Bantustans?) it runs the risk of resuscitating the foulest components of Apartheid.  Do we really need a ‘White’ Academic Caucus? 
Worse still, by failing to hold those who:
1. defame/intimidate/assault (even murder members of the UCT community;
2. undermine its functioning as an educational institution; and
3. wantonly destroy valuable assets

fully accountable for their actions, the UCT Executive exposes itself to allegations of collusion in these nefarious activities.   Rather than refuting the vile notions that “that Africa [was] … uncivilized until colonialism took over” and “that no knowledge or discoveries come out of Africa”, such socio-political engineering promotes their persistence.

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