Saturday, 30 September 2017

DVC for Transformation, Loretta Feris describes decolonization at UCT

The University of Cape Town Executive explains its approach to institutional “decolonization” and why, without it, research excellence at UCT is unsustainable

Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe

Part 1. Decolonization

Space, truth and being

Law professor, former Black Academic Caucus (BAC) vice-chairperson, NRF C-rated researcher and current DVC for Transformation, Loretta Feris describes decolonization at UCT as a transformation into “a pluri-versal space” “where there is more than one central truth, where there is more than one dominant culture and where there is more than one way of being as a person”.


Weren’t pluralism and pluralistic spaces central pillars of Apartheid?

What is a decolonized “pluriversity”?  According to eminent, UCT-invited, decolonist scholars Mahmood Mamdani (this year’s T.B. Davie lecturer) and Achille Mbembe, it is a deconstructed/democratized, ‘inclusivized’ entity with reduced pedagogical isolation, hierarchical structure and subject focus.  Decolonized curricula should incorporate elements that involve socio-economic experiences and politics of oppressed masses. 

With regard to academic staff, Ph.D.-earning scholars who challenge current dogma by publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals and, locally, subject themselves to regular peer-review nationally and institutionally must become (or be replaced by)  “organic/public” intellectuals (PIs).  PIs focus on societally important “contextual” issues, publish in social media and eschew formal academic evaluation and competition of any kind (in the extreme even course examinations).  Rather than viewing the world governed by potentially universal rules and principles, PIs “articulate” with it through qualitative study of contingent, unique, and often cultural or subjective phenomena based on individuals’ “lived experiences”.  Truth, from their perspective is contextually dependent on the culture, feelings and experiences of the masses.

Central Truth

What is the current “central truth” at UCT?  According to Feris-invited speaker Prof. Chandra Raju, there is not one in mathematics, physics or biology.

Prof. Raju calls for a critical re-examination of ways of doing math, stating that: “We cannot just assume that existing (colonial) math education should persist. Nor even can we continue to justify it merely on unexamined Western myths and dogmas.”

Feris-invited expert panellists at the same lecture and some in the audience did not agree.  
What do mathematically-oriented UCT academics think?
With regard to biology (my discipline), there is the perennial ‘nature vs nurture’ truth-debate and, more specifically, there is molecular reductionism and genetic/selective determinism versus Smutsian ecological holism and historical contingency.  At UCT, some of these debates go back to Lancelot Hogben in the 1920s and are ongoing

Let’s hear more on this from other scientists, social/humanitarians, philosophers and medics!

Truth at UCT

Isn’t “Truth” supposed to be the "objective realityexcluding individual, religious, mythological, ideological or political biases.   That was UCT VC T.B. Davie’s vision.

In a 1950 speech, Davie ‘nailed’ his and UCT’s academic principles to the ‘mast’.  Universities should be populated by “those fitted by ability and training for higher education” … “aiming at the advancement of knowledge by the methods of study and research founded on absolute intellectual integrity and pursued in an atmosphere of academic freedom”.   This should allow “real” universities the autonomy to decide:
          “who shall teach – determined by fitness and scholarship and experience;
           what we teach – the truth and not what it is demanded by others for the purposes of sectional, political, religious or ideological dogmas or beliefs;
          how we teach – not subject to interference aimed at standardization at the expense of originality; and [most importantly]
          whom we teach – [individuals] intellectually capable and morally worthy to join the great brotherhood which constitutes the wholeness of the university”.

But he was not done.  He went on to say that the university community should:

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

Hence, it is fit and proper that the annual T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture on academic freedom was established by UCT students to commemorate the memory of Davie’s devotion to principles. 

In the first T.B. Davie Lecture honouring Davie in 1959, UCT Chancellor Justice Albert van der Sandt Centlivres emphasized Davies’ “fearlessly fighting for” “absolute intellectual freedom”, “intellectual integrity” and taking the unshakable position that “advancement of knowledge” should involve “the untrammelled pursuit of the truth”.

He succinctly summarized Davie:

“He gave his heart and soul to the University.”

Is Davie’s Dream to be abandoned in favour of some Nietzschean vision of choosing among contextually dependent interpretations determined by those who currently have power?

In his pre-T.B. Davie lecture comments this year, UCT VC Max Price gave Davie’s ‘principled-principal’ stance short shrift and opened it to ‘reinterpretation’. 

He said that, today, beyond “academic merit”, Academic Freedom “may also entail other criteria”.  It is a “live issue not frozen in 1950s” that needs to be “reinvestigated, reinterpreted, reunderstood (sic) and reapplied“ in the light of “other issues” and a changing ‘institutional culture” facilitated by “fierce and robust discussions”.  

To my mind, this is a Marxist (Groucho not Karl) position: “If you don’t like my principles, I have others.”

Group domination

Didn’t Mandela call for an end to “dominant cultures” of any kind?  Is the UCT ‘Old Boys’ network to be ‘complemented’ or replaced by a ‘Xhosa Nostra’Is the BAC a ‘melanised’ blend of the Afrikaner Nasionale Studentebond and  Broederbond?  Despite searching the internet and multiply asking Price, Feris, and the BAC Chairperson, I have yet to see a copy of the BAC Constitution.  May a ‘white’ join it?  When and where does it meet? Who is it helping other than lawbreaking Fallists?

With regard to Feris’ call for institutionalized ‘multi-being’, there have always been political parties, cultural societies, the communist/capitalist divide and science vs ‘séance’ debate (at least until 2015) at a ‘diverse’ UCT. 

However, with the exception of the current VC, previous incumbents drew a firm line at what the first VC Sir ‘Jock’ Beattie regarded as less than “decent behaviour”.  This ‘line’ was first crossed during the 1930s, when the right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic, nationalist Afrikaner Nasionale Studentebond (ASB) attempted to intimidate ‘nie-blanke’ and Jews (especially those who fraternized with ‘blacks’) and advocated ‘white’, nationalistic supremacy. 
Beattie threw it off-campus. 

During the Price “Afropolitan” regime, there has been a re-emergence of racialist ‘societies’, ‘movements’, associations, chapters and caucuses, this time advocating “dismantling whiteness” and replacing it with nationalistic neo-‘Black Consciousness’.  Rather than debating ‘race’-related issues, let alone drawing lines of “acceptable” (let alone decent) behaviour, Price, Feris and others in the Senior Leadership Group (SLG), Rapid Response Task Team (RRTT) and the Strategic Executive Task Team (SETT) supported by Council actively engage with (and capitulate to) these entities and routinely grant amnesty to their lawbreaking members based on the “spirit” (not the letter) of “restorative justice”.  Please explain what is being “restored”.

With regard to gender/sexuality issues, VC Stuart Saunders’ strongly supported the formation of UCT’s Gay and Lesbian Association >30 years ago and his successors have staunchly defended LGBTQ rights since then

What does the UCT Executive actually do?
Feris complains of a UCT “steeped in bureaucracy” and “ruled by committee”.  But, it seems that these groups, teams (task or otherwise), committees, associations, movements and caucuses actually cause more destructive ‘decolonization’ than ‘restoration’ or progress.  Many students, staff, alumni and donors complain of little or no substantive transformation and an uncaring, ineffectual (indeed obfuscative/cumbersome/repressive/oppressive/commodified) centralized “bureaucracy”.
Given her misgivings and those of the students and staff whom she serves, why hasn’t Feris broken ranks with the Senior Leadership Group and cut through the bureaucratic Gordian Knot?

Feris believes that UCT “needs to interrogate rules and procedures”, but fails to apply them when dealing with lawbreaking Fallists.  When they violated the November 2016 Agreement and invaded the Mafeje Room, she chose to “appeal” to them in order to “keep pace with a changing student profile”.  In the end, someone within the Executive made a restoratively justified “arrangement” with them to end the invasion.  Even non-UCT invaders evaded punishment.

Is the Pluriversity of Cape Town going to have fewer rules and structures that actually deliver on rhetoric?

Facing up to socio-economic challenges by ‘playing decolonial chicken
Feris and other pro-Fallists rightfully complain that “black students, rural students, students from quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools” are lacking in “economic, social and cultural capital”.  “Students are hungry and cannot afford accommodation” which has “a profound impact on their ability to function in a learning environment”.  But, given the progressively lower support from government and highly unlikely elimination of fees (except perhaps for the poorest and brightest), let alone finding additional support for monthly living expenses, when will she or anyone else in the Executive admit the reality that the Executive’s strategy to fund many subsidy-earning students partially, and not fewer students comprehensively, generates their “profound inability to function”?

[For a particularly insightful commentary on the “Welfare University”, see Chapter 8 of Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s 2016 book: As by Fire: the end of the South African University.  See also Prof. Phakeng’s call for full funding for financially strapped students, but only at the post-grad level. With regard to UCT’s hyper-centralized management, see the Moran report on "Managerialism" published in 2007, co-authored by former Dean of Science Cliff Moran and DVC Cheryl de la Rey and acted on by no one.  It can be viewed on page 3 of my Blog Site –]

In Africa, this r-selection biological strategy is employed by its most widespread bird, the Helmeted Guineafowl (known as the Pharaoh’s Chicken), which lays up to 20 eggs, but is rarely capable of rearing more than a handful of the chicks that emerge from them.  In sharp contrast, Africa’s most widespread eagle, the Martial Eagle, employs K-selection.  It lays just one egg and invests enormously in the resulting chick which almost guarantees its survival.  By the way, this bird of prey is also the Helmeted Guineafowl’s most feared predator.

Wouldn’t replacing UCT’s chicken-strategy for students with an eagle-one better “take into account the hardship of the daily grind of many of our students”.  Indeed, to what extent might the “psychological problems” so prevalent amongst under-supported students be alleviated if their financial needs were met fully?

Immoral admission
From an academic perspective, is it morally defensible to admit (and bureaucratically re-admit) thousands of educationally ‘disabled’ matriculants and undergrads, many of whom fail to cope, despite academic ‘support’ and counselling?    More than half of these kids with ‘great expectations’ never obtain a university degree, and >80% take more than four years to do so, often ‘earning’ poor results and incurring massive debt?   Why has UCT never published statistics indicating the career success of these ‘long-haul graduates’.  Is this good educational practice?  Does it liberate the oppressed masses, or just a few?  Does it maintain excellence and produce leaders/innovators?

These ‘betrayed’ kids are fodder for radical Fallists bent on destroying UCT.

Endless ‘decolonization’
Why does Feris believe that the “university needs to constantly review our decision-making processes”?  Why not become “fair” and “consistent” and choose a broadly ‘eagle’ ones that actually “take into account social and economic context”, rather than focusing on the ‘chicken’ one that sucks in effectively doomed students in order to get government subsidies?  Is it because it brings in the most money? 

The ‘rich get rich and the poor get children.  In the meantime, ain’t we got fun?
Why must “everyone flourish”, regardless of their background?  Rich kids (regardless of how they self-identify) will always be better resourced, whether it be at UCT or anywhere else.  The UCT Executive’s goal should be to ensure that bright, poor, hard-working kids coming from an education-disabling school system receive adequate, comprehensive, eagle support so THEIR kids can “flourish” and acquire their own wealth.

Re-readmission Appeals Committees (RAC)
Feris views the Executive’s concession to Mafeje-Room-invading Fallists to implement automatic, bureaucratic, centralized re-evaluation of faculty-based RAC decisions as a “historical way of decision-making in a committee” that “corrected actions” [exclusions] initially “detrimental to students”.  Perhaps she and other “senior leaders” should accept that their chicken-strategy to fund many students only partially is the root cause of their inability to cope at UCT.  Using bureaucratic power to override carefully considered reviews by subject-specialist, faculty-based RA committees that studiously act in a fair, consistent and compassionate manner, helps no one, least of all struggling students and the academic/admin staff who undertake this painful task.  The current members of the Science Faculty RAC resigned in protest. 

Who will replace them?  If the Fallists shut down UCT again, who will fill the teaching breach to make up for missed lectures?

What would a ‘pluriversity’ look like?
Feris says a pluriversity will allow room for “a range of epistemologies”. But, what and where are they?  UCT launched its Centre for African Studies (CAS) more than 40 years ago.  Why did it fail to produce or help to foster the development of students, staff and novel epistemologies and curricula necessary to expand this “range”?  Why was the CAS’s disestablishment considered seriously in 2011?  It’s been five years since the ‘new’ CAS was “re-launched” and it has only introduced undergraduate courses this year.  Why take so long to produce so little?  CAS director please reply.

What about the Centre for Higher Education Development’s (CHED) Academic Development Programme(ADP) (now with some 60 academic staff) that has been around since the 1980s?  Does Feris support pouring more money into this programme that has “marginalized” ‘black’ students, never ‘filled the education gap’, let alone maintained excellence [something Feris never mentions]. CHED dean or Feris please reply.

What has the Black Academic Caucus been up to?  The BAC was founded in 2012, with the purpose of “challenging the slow pace of transformation” and claiming to be “well-placed to recognise the obstacles to decolonisation within the institution and work towards overcoming them”.  What are its “important gains” vis-à-vis adding to epistemological diversity and overcoming “obstacles [other than demanding blanket amnesty for lawbreaking Fallists]?

Then there is the Curriculum Change Working Group.  What has it achieved in the two years since it added to UCT’s committee-diversity?

Nearly 20 years have passed since the “Mamdani Affair”.  Two years ago, the Dean of Humanities convened a faculty-wide assembly and asked for input from students vis-à-vis new transformed curricula.  All he got were complaints that the UCT’s Academic Development Programme had “marginalized” them, and a suggestion to implement Mamdani’s unchanged, outdated curriculum for “Problematizing Africa” from the 1990s. 

The Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission Steering Committee, which absorbs much of Feris’ time, seems to be more focused on defining/justifying  ‘violence’ and granting amnesties to Fallists than “unpacking the limits of acceptable protest”.  It hasn’t consulted and engaged with various ‘constituencies’ vis-a-vis restructuring curricula.  Indeed, the Criteria it has identified for IRT Commissioners are conspicuously lacking in terms of capacity relating to curriculum development.  In fact, all that has been released are names of 18 potential commissioners sans CVs, résumés and/or vision statements.

My own department, Biological Sciences, is nowhere near consensus on what to do with its curriculum in the face of falling student numbers and high failure rates.  Progress to date suggests an intention to continue gearing it towards producing graduates who will pursue postgraduate study, rather than creating pathways for school biology teachers.  This is especially worrying, given the Executive’s policy of “freezing posts and other budget cuts impacting on the university’s employment equity targets”.  How many biology Ph.D. graduates find jobs and have productive careers? Where are the excellent biology teachers going to come from?

How can UCT grads “have a career trajectory and a possibility for growth” under these circumstances, let alone aspire to excellence and become “retained role models”?  Also, will the Executive’s New Strategy to bias staff recruitment in favour of South African ‘blacks’ (or any ‘group’ for that matter) and particular theories (e.g. Critical Theory) irrespective of merit maintain academic excellence? 

For example, the currently advertised new Mafeje Chair is restricted to South African ‘blacks’.  It is therefore unavailable to eminent ‘decolonist’ Achille Mbembe because he was born in Cameroon and is ‘critical’ of Critical Theory.  Indeed, my guess is that hyper-empiricist  Archie Mafeje would also be one of CT’s critics!

When does a demographic “African lens” become xenophobic ‘blinkers’ that undermine diversity and “extensive collaboration across Africa and the globe”? 

Why should non-South African academics be treated a ‘visitors’ and not potential career colleagues?  

This is reminiscent of VC Beattie’s views on women and ‘nie-blanke’ 90 years ago.

Mamokgethi Phakeng explains UCT's position on excellence and decolonization

The University of Cape Town Executive explains its approach to institutional “decolonization” and why, without it, research excellence at UCT is unsustainable

Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe

Part 2. Excellence
Mamokgethi Phakeng, a professor of Mathematics Education, an NRF B-rated researcher and UCT’s DVC for Research and Internationalisation, delivered the keynote address at the 2016 UCT Annual Research Function, at which the university's latest research report was launched. 
I quote from and comment on her address: Without transformation, research excellence is unsustainable.
” The old certainties – good and bad – are unravelling. What we thought we knew, we no longer know. We can be confident only that in the coming decades we will encounter a world of rapid and almost unimaginably profound change. And a question that we might consider tonight is how we, as UCT researchers, could possibly be prepared for the multiple and unforeseeable challenges that await us. My view is that to cope with this uncertain future that we face, we are going to need three things: an unrelenting commitment to excellence, an exceptional focus on transformation and the courage to do things differently.”
A bit scary, but great, so far.  But, now comes “context”.
The “truth is that what made us excellent yesterday, is no guarantee that it will make us excellent tomorrow. To continue in our trajectory of excellence requires the keen ability to manage the change and master adaptability.”
Excellence is not innocent, especially in a country such as ours, with a history of discrimination and oppression. Excellence always has a context.”
Excellence, when it is too rigidly defined, leaves us valuing certain stories over others, leaves us assimilating instead of reaching towards newer and better ways of being.” 
Does this mean that many of UCT’s current ‘excellent’ academics are “unravelling” and passé, their achievements benefitted from racial discrimination, redress has only involved assimilation and they have resisted transformation?
Then the brakes come on.
“I believe in excellence and, despite its complexity, I remain convinced that, in a business such as ours, excellence is non-negotiable.” 
“We should guard against a tendency to downplay excellence in favour of mediocrity, which is usually done unwittingly in interactions and considerations about equity, transformation and capacity development.” 
Are some of our excellent academics inadvertently compromising their and their students’ status in favour of mediocrity when they attempt to foster the development of the previously oppressed?
Back to “context”
“The complexity of excellence means that it always has a context – it means different things to different people. This is the reason why, when I talk about excellence, some people ask, “excellence for whom?” and, when some people hear that I am committed to supporting excellence, they misguidedly think that I am only interested in supporting academic indulgence.”
But, she doesn’t indicate who or what has been or will be “indulged”.
Then she refers to the “challenges” presented by “Africanisation”, “decolonisation” vs adaptive(?) “transformation”, “lowering of standards”, getting “more women and black Africans into the academy and up the professorial rank”, not abandoning assessment against the “objective standards of a meritocracy”, and “elitism achieved at others’ expense”.
Some of these are transformation/decolonization matters more suitable to the portfolio/purview of Prof. Feris.  But, if Africanization means adapting UCT’s institutional structure, curriculum, language(s) of instruction to focus on African culture and belief systems, essentialist mystifications, masculinist appropriation of dissent, and reverse racism under the guise of fatalistic populist millenarianism, it amounts to little more than retrogressive nativism.
I prefer the term “Afro-relevance” that emphasized utility rather than geography.
With regard to decolonization/transformation, I support Mamdani’s definition: “sift through historical legacy and contemporary reality discarding some parts and adapting others to a newfound purpose”.   
With regard to standards, meritocracy and elitism, the academic arena at world class research universities is a highly demanding, competitive [but not necessarily zero-sum] one.  If you want excellence, set high, but fair, standards and apply them without fear or favour.
Phakeng’s vision is to “ensure sustainable excellence in UCT’s research” by “creating an enabling environment” that contributes to “sustainable societal improvement”.   This requires focusing on excellent researchers who are “passionate”.
But, the bottom line in a global competition is: “Without transformation, our excellence will be unsustainable.” 
Note that she refers to “decolonization” only twice, in two successive sentences.
This means that transformation is to be an adaptive, progressive, pump-priming exercise that becomes self-sustaining and builds capacity.  However, this requires structured resolve in addition to potentially fleeting passion.
Conflicting obviosities, unsubstantiated statements and hard questions
“Peaks of excellence can spring up anywhere”.
“Excellence cannot be everywhere.” 
A “few excellent researchers or research entities [cannot] succeed at the expense of others”.
 “Excellence doesn't develop on its own. It requires nurturing and resources.” 
Why, after 22 post-Apartheid years after democracy do we have only one (and an ‘outsourced’ one at that) black African South African woman full professor? 
“We have excellent research support programmes for emerging researchers.”
“More than resources, excellence requires the right philosophy.”
We need “a commitment to transformation; a willingness to identify particular strengths and opportunities” and make “difficult choices as part of our research strategy”.
“Excellence requires a willingness to work to build up the right conditions and practices over many years.” 
To do this, we need to “work together” and “start doing some things a little differently in order not to stagnate”.
This requires agreement of the “essential truth” that we have “far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. [So, contrary to Feris, UCT has at least one “essential truth”.]
If we don’t “act now”, “others” [high-priced private institution] “will step in to do so”.
What does all this mean?
“Peaks of excellence” aren’t pandemic.  They emerge from well-thought-out visions developed, sometimes opportunistically, over several, sometimes many, years.  They can be a consequence of building on strong foundations (e.g. marine biology in Biological Sciences since the late 1940s) and/or capitalizing on innovative opportunities and charismatic entities (e.g. conservation biology, fynbos and birds at the Leslie Hill Institute for Plant Conservation and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology).
Excellent researchers or research entities need not succeed at the expense of others.
The few formal Centres of Excellence at UCT are largely self-invented and are, in fact, ‘cash cows’ whose research programmes are largely self-funded and whose educational and research subsidy earnings cross-subsidize financially less successful departments.   This is documented in detail in the 2005 MBA dissertation of the FitzPatrick Institute’s former director Morne du Plessis [The nature of robust partnerships: balancing conflict and cooperation in collaborative ventures].  Morne resigned soon thereafter.
“Excellence doesn't develop on its own and requires nurturing and resources.” 

At UCT, excellence is almost invariably a consequence of strategic appointments (generally instigated by visionary Deans – e.g. Jack de Wet and Cliff Moran in Science), and at least some nurturing.  This is chronicled in detail for South Africa in On the Shoulders of Oldenburg by eminent UCT Emeritus Professor Christopher ‘Kit’ Vaughan, published in 2015 by the National Research Foundation.  At UCT, these ‘winners’ generally ‘self-developed’ with little investment from UCT’s Research Fund.  Sadly, some of these winners (e.g. Roy Siegfried, Cliff Moran, Morne du Plessis, Maarten De Wit, Richard Cowling, David Richardson and Graeme Cumming) clashed with the “people down the hill”, left UCT in frustration and flourished thereafter.  Read the “Moran Report”!

Why, after 22 post-Apartheid years only one (and ‘outsourced’ at that) black African South African woman full professor? 
This is because, going back to the 1980s, UCT has marginalized young ‘black’ students into initially ‘outsourced’, largely failing, expensive Academic Support/Development Programmes, rather than requiring UCT’s Core Departments to take them into their ‘families’ to foster their passions and have them nurtured by the excellent researchers that populate them.
“We have excellent research support programmes for emerging researchers.”
This has been disputed strongly. 
“More than resources, excellence requires the right philosophy.”
Spot on!  
Some decolonists strongly favour that of Michel Foucault for whom truth is elusive and inseparable from context.   Others promote the dismantling philosophy of “deconstruction” strongly linked with Jacques Derrida.  More others are influenced by Marxist Antonio Gramsci, ‘father’ of the “public/organic intellectual”. Still others (especially radical Fallists) favour Frantz Fanon, whose ideas attempt to justify, even sanctify, violence by colonized ‘black’ people against the foreign colonizer as necessary for their mental health and political liberation:
“The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler.  For the native, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse of the settler.  For the colonized people, this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their character with positive and creative qualities. The practice of violence binds them together as a whole.” 
Adaptive Transformationists argue for the ‘scientific method’ to search for hopefully universal truth using:
1.       Characterizations (observations, definitions, and measurements of the subject of inquiry);
2.       Hypotheses (theoretical, hypothetical explanations of observations and measurements of the subject);
3.       Predictions (reasoning including deductive reasoning from the hypothesis or theory);
4.       Experiments (tests of all of the above)
to choose (at least for the time being) the hypothesis whose predictions best survive testing and perhaps become Kuhnian Paradigms.  Many of them select Karl Popper’s ‘falsificationism’ as the preferred philosophy and parsimony/Occam's razor as the selection criterion.
We need “a commitment to transformation; a willingness to identify [and implement even over many years] particular strengths and opportunities” and make “difficult choices as part of our research strategy”.
This is tough for highly NRF-rated, currently “indulged” researchers who do not want to ”unravel” or   descend from their academic ‘peaks’, and is not popular among Fallists who favour radical decolonization.
To do this, we need to “work together” and “start doing some things a little differently in order not to stagnate”.
Researchers should not be required by ‘higher-ups down the hill’ to “work together” and/or “do things differently” when they don’t want to.  Those who need collaborators to achieve or maintain excellence will find their own way or drop down the excellence ‘ladder’. Force-feeding ‘inclusivity’ can act destructively when recipients don’t buy fully into the process.  But, researchers allowed to hide in epistemic “safe spaces”, however defined, can slide into ruts that become graves.
This requires agreement of the “essential truth” that we have “far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.
So, contrary to Feris, UCT has at least one “essential truth”.
If we don’t “act now”, “others” [high-priced private institution] “will step in to do so”.
This means opening the door wide to invasion, not by Fallists, but by neo-colonist universities from elsewhere who will cater to the demands of those wealthy enough to pay their exorbitant fees and pass on their uncriticised Western knowledge.
Then the public intellectuals occasionally populating offices and labs at the Pluriversity of Cape Town will have inoffensive, non-competitive conversations with the few colleagues that remain and thousands of students, with the latter departing after some specified time with a meaningless ‘performance’ certificate.  Research, if it’s conducted or supported at all, will be funded by end users who value the PI’s ‘opinions’ or donors who ‘invest’ out of guilt or ideological loyalty.
Exposing myself as Irish American, “bog trotter”, settler, I close with a quote from my favourite US gridiron coach [who would have kneeled with his players], Vince Lombardi:
 “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Mahmood Mamdani and the Academic Freedom Lecture: Public Intellectualism Gone Wrong

Top of Form
Mahmood Mamdani and the Academic Freedom Lecture: Public Intellectualism Gone Wrong

28 September 2017
On 22 August, the University of Cape Town’s 2017 T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture on Academic Freedom titled “Decolonising the Post-Colonial University” was given (over the objections of several UCT academics) by one of the world’s top 10 public intellectuals and arguably the world’s leading authority on African colonial and post‐colonial international politics and the decolonization of African universities, Mahmood Mamdani.
First, what’s a public intellectual? Here’s my definition:
  1. an undisputed expert and critical thinker a subject (e.g. Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould – not Richard Dawkins – on evolution; Noam Chomsky on linguistics and political action; Salman Rushdie on humanism and cultural relativism);
  2. a translator who can distil academic verbiage into accounts that can be understood and appreciated by laypeople;
  3. a dissenter who can rattle the cages of tradition and normality without bias towards a particular ideology;
  4. a rational debater who participates in respectfully-competitive discussions beyond endless ‘conversations’;
  5. a knowledge gatekeeper who can ensure effective communication and understanding without constraining it in twitter-sized packets of hyper-simplified jargon; and
  6. ultimately a revealer of truth, even when it contradicts overwhelming power.
Why the requests?
UCT’s Executive, led by Vice Chancellor Max Price, cancelled (with short notice and over strong objections from UCT’s Academic Freedom Committee and many staff/students/alumni) the 2016 Davie Lecture. Price acted because the invited speaker (journalist Flemming Rose) was anonymously defamed (without published evidence) as a “bigot”/“blasphemer”/”Islamophobe”, and Price feared that Rose’s potentially unconstitutional address (the topic of which never discussed – but probably self-censorship) might provoke unspecified (hypothetical?) “violent protest”.
The objectors felt that no further Davie Lectures should be given until Rose was allowed to present one.
Why did Mamdani refuse?
Mamdani maintained that Rose and the publishers of cartoons of Mohammed, especially with a hand grenade in his turban, are Islamophobic, and because they refused to publish similar cartoons of Christ.
No. According to Rose, Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper concerned, published several cartoons similarly ridiculing Jesus, even by Kurt Westergaard, the artist that did the cartoon of the Mohammed.
Jyllands-Posten and – according to Mamdani – cartoons drawn by South African cartoonist Zapiro – are also Islamophobic because the offensive cartoons are ‘reminiscent’ of those published in an anti-Semitic Nazi tabloid for which the editor was executed. Mamdani also indicated that the newspaper’s and Rose’s actions remind him of those of journalists, radio broadcasters and intellectuals who encouraged the genocide in Rwanda.
Being ‘reminiscent’ of something proves nothing. Der Stürmer, the vehemently, anti-Semitic, German tabloid Mamdani refers to, was published by Julius Streicher, the man justifiably executed. The paper was not an official publication of the Nazi Party. Indeed, Hermann Göring regarded it as an embarrassment to Nazism and Joseph Goebbels tried to ban it, since it was too salacious, even for him. Der Stürmer was published privately by Streicher and made him a millionaire. It also ran sexually explicit, anti-Catholicanti-Communist, and anti-monarchist propaganda and, in its editorials, Streicher relentlessly called for the annihilation and extermination of the Jewish race.
Cartoons depicting Mohammed may offend self-proclaimed jihadist terrorists (such as those who murdered employees, police and bystanders at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper) and Mamdani and remind them of actionable Nazism/anti-Semitism. But, how can a couple of cartoons be a stepping stone to genocide? Moreover, the horrific acts in Rwanda were the result of a concerted, well-coordinated conspiracy that had a strong basis in politics and socio-economics, in addition to tribal/racial hatred. Rose, the relevant cartoonists and newspaper publishers produced one product and have never been proven to be hatemongers.
In short, neither Mamdani’s inference nor unsuccessful legal action by Muslim agencies prove Islamophobia or a connection between Rose and clarion calls for group-based discrimination or genocide.
Amos n’ Andy
Also, for the umpteenth time, Mamdani referred to Amos n’ Andy, the longest-running and one of the most popular radio shows in US history as a comparable example of anti-‘black’ racism. The show a was an offshoot of failing minstrelsy and highly popular even with African-Americans. Nevertheless, some eminent citizens objected to it because its white actors stereotyped their folk as “inferior, lazy, dumb and dishonest”. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) national office initially declined to endorse their objections.
A subsequent TV version of the show, with a highly-talented, all-‘black’ cast ran for two years until its sponsors withdrew support based of objections/boycotts from the NAACP. Nevertheless, its reruns continued for another 13 years despite further objections.
Whether Amos n’ Andy was an anti-African-American racist portrayal is by no means generally accepted by African-Americans and radio/TV critics/historians. The documentary Amos ‘n’ Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy, looks at its history and the show’s characters from its inception on radio to the first all-black cast show on American TV.  Hosted by African-American comedian George Kirby, this documentary features rare archival clips and interviews with former TV cast members, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Redd Foxx, Marla Gibbs and former NAACP leaders of that era. None of the interviewees take the Mamdani ‘position’.
This pioneering situation comedy depicted black actors portraying upstanding judges, lawyers, police officers, business owners, home owners, and strong and opinionated women; admittedly alongside other flawed individuals who mispronounced and misused the English language. Rev. Jackson said: “We had enough sense to see that these brilliant actors were comedians playing out roles”.  “Perhaps what was missing were other more serious shows to establish balance.” What was missing then, and now, is a balanced focus on education instead of poverty; appreciation of art instead of burning it; resolute mass action rather than gang violence; sober, rational and respectful discussion rather than profanity; love instead of pathological hatred and, especially, respect for the rule of law and women.
On the last score, Price chooses to quote American ‘activist’ Stokely Carmichael on nuanced institutional racism, but ignores his notorious comment: “The position of women in the [Civil Rights] movement is prone.” He chose to help radical, ideologue and PASMA commissar Masixole Mlandu escape detention by the SA Police Service so they could ‘negotiate’.  Price even suspended UCT’s 2016 Student Representative Council elections because candidate Mlandu was interdicted from being on campus. This is despite the fact that Mlandu has been accused of malicious damage to property, housebreaking, intimidation and sexual harassment and described by a judge as “unrepentant”. The pro-fallist Daily Maverick describes him as determined to “destroy Rhodes, his legacy and all he represents” by “bring[ing] the struggles and vagaries of township life and black pain to the affluent centres of South Africa’s elite establishment”.
As for me, I watched Amos n’ Andy TV re-runs as a teenager simultaneously with the equally hilarious Honeymooners, which depicted ‘whites’ as severely lacking in character and intellect. Think also of the similarly-deficient Archie Bunker and today’s Black-ish. Perhaps Mamdani should also listen to Amos’ words describing the Lord’s Prayer to his young daughter.
Mamdani also maintains that Amos n’ Andy was finally cancelled in 1965 due to the “political influence” of “inarticulate” Watts Rioters – 30000+ rioters; 34 deaths; $40 million damage – in Los Angeles. The riot was, in fact, triggered by an altercation between allegedly racist police and an African-American motorist. A subsequent commission of enquiry makes no reference to the show.
What, then, is Mamdani’s evidence? Both events took place in the same year: 1965. But, so did relatively non-violent protests in Selma, Alabama, and the passage of pivotal US civil rights legislation. Perhaps peaceful, coordinated actions have more effect in the longer term than riotous acts.
A challenge
Mamdani ended his riposte by asking the pro-Rose, UCT e-mailers if they would stand up and answer the question: Would you also invite Streicher and the promoters of the Rwandan genocide to give the Davie Memorial Lecture? Then he declared that the “Islamophobic” Rose had no democratic right to have the honour to give the Academic Freedom Lecture at UCT and “congratulated” Price for banning Rose.
Since these e-mailers were not present, they were unable to answer Mamdani’s question with an unequivocal “NO”! With regard to ‘democratic rights’, Price has steadfastly refused to conduct democratic, anonymous, vote-based surveys of the UCT Community on any aspect of decolonization or fallism, let alone defining and defending academic freedom.  With regard to ‘honour’, the unilateral action by the Price-led Executive to override a decision by the Academic Freedom Committee (whose job it is to select Davie Lecture speakers – including Mamdani) without consulting Senate confers none on UCT’s leadership.

The Davie-Rose-Mamdani ‘affair’ is, at best, the misuse of public intellectualism to undermine Davie’s vision, defame Rose and eminent UCT ‘universal scholars’ and contribute to the collapse of academic freedom in order to promote destructive decolonization.