Who drives academic ‘decolonization’ at the University of Cape Town (UCT), how and why?
Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe
UCT is ranked 191 in the world, and 19th if the search is restricted to BRICS countries. However, it has dropped by 40 and 10 places respectively since the ‘rise’ of Fallism. Nevertheless, it’s still number 1 in Africa. But, closest rival, Stellenbosch University (361st), has climbed by 31 places since last year, and meteorically since the 1990s. Within UCT, ornithology has risen steadily, and now ranks at 3rd worldwide and 4th in African Studies. UCT researchers are still highly rated by South Africa’s National Research Foundation, and attract considerable research funds and publish innovative papers and books. But, more than half or her A-rated researchers are emeritus professors or 60+ years old, two-thirds of them are from the Faculties of Science and Health Sciences, and A-ratings and published research ‘fruits’ are efforts decades in the making.
So, with noteworthy exceptions, UCT is in overall academic decline as a research university.
Despite this bad news, Fallists, the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) and UCT’s Vice-Chancellor, DVCs and Executive Directors are determined to pursue Fallists’ evidence-free demands for her further “decolonization”, believing that it will reverse this trajectory. They maintain that decolonization is also essential because UCT remains institutionally racist and colonialist. This is in sharp contrast to the recollections of past VCs Saunders and Ramphele, and my history: Was/Is UCT an institutionally colonialist/sexist/racist institution? (Parts 1 and 2 on my Blog Site timguineacrowe.blogspot.co.za). These scholarly publications demonstrate that UCT became non-racial in principle from 1950 and, certainly from +-1980, has striven to eliminate any vestiges of institutional (or individual acts of) racism and dealt aggressively with alleged acts of colonialism and sexism.
There is no documented, evidence-based Fallist history of UCT that supports the persistence of racism and/or colonialism at UCT, institutional of otherwise.
The one high-profile case of alleged racism in the public domain involved a Sociology decolonist academic who accused colleagues of racism. His complaint was reviewed (with the approval of all concerned) by DVC (and NRF-A-rated professor of law) Danie Visser. Visser dismissed the case, found that the accuser had defamed the alleged racists and instructed him to apologize publicly for this defamation.
He refused to comply.
Another recent racism ‘story’ at UCT relates to the pioneer Fallist and decolonist who “reprehensively” defaced (without being held accountable) Rhodes’ statue with human excrement. Subsequently, he was accused of psychologically and racially abusing a woman lecturer. During the incident, he is quoted saying: “it's time for all whites to go" and “whites have to be killed". That case remains unresolved, and the lecturer has had virtually no support from the UCT Management for more than a year. Still later, the same multi-amnestied Fallist was accused of a assaulting another woman (this time a ‘black’, lesbian protester) and of arson during the Shackville ‘Protest’. For the latter, he was effectively expelled. Yet, after being once again ‘clemencied’ for this law-breaking, and allowed access to UCT via the November Agreement for non-violence, he violated that let-off a month later by invading the AGM of the UCT Convocation and defaming a member of the Convocation. Most recently, in August 2017 at the T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture, he defamed VC Price saying: “Dr Price protects white racists” (naming the alleged ones in Sociology) “who have not apologized for questioning the actions of a ‘black’ professor” (naming the defamer). “Dr Price has no courage, regard, wisdom and no vision to say to you I apologize for this institutional racism. He is morally bankrupt.”
Yet, this multi-lawbreaking, multi-amnestied, unrepentant Fallist/decolonist whom VC Price has repeatedly ‘consoled’ and described as “outraged” [rather than outrageous], apparently will re-register for his 10th year as a UCT undergraduate student in 2018, despite failing many (most?) of his courses.
Moving from lawbreaking and defamation back to decolonization, Fallists and their supporters claim that “particular identities and scholarly traditions and perspectives” - especially from Africa and the global south - are marginalised and excluded at UCT within a static and rigid academic climate that does not easily allow for alternative perspectives, and is not responsive to society and public debate. Particular blame is focused on the cultural views of “collectively dominant Western ‘dead-white-men’” that are “lodged at the heart of UCT’s curriculum and attempt to perpetuate negative stereotypes in curricula and pedagogy”.
However, what is missing in Fallist statements is a fact-filled, rational explication of what is “marginalized and excluded” and documented evidence of resolute pursuit of an obstructive status quo. What arguments they present refer to “subtle”, nuanced, even “invisible” hegemonic Western influences and global thinking; “internalised ‘white’ superiority”, “other exclusionary practices”, “masked and cumulative and institutional racism”; and “also-invisible culturally-linked, symbolic, structural, epistemological and psychological violence”. All of these ghost-like actions are unsupported by documented evidence.
Nevertheless, Fallists and ‘decolonists’ claim that these invisible influences, violence et al. justify their overt violence and other lawbreaking. They claim to be alienated, and call for the creation of more opportunities to expose students to alternative “ways of thinking” associated with disciplines beyond their primary areas of specialisation.
But, once again, what are these “ways of thinking” and new “areas”?
Fallist decolonists also call for the meaningful interrogation of these subtle/invisible influences, and insist that all members of the university make a commitment to participate in “winnable” debates within “safe spaces” to enable change that addresses the challenges of transformation.
But, there are such “spaces”: Jameson Hall, lecture theatres, seminar rooms, even the UCT Club. Yet, when Fallists deem it necessary, they disrupt sessions where such debate could occur. Just who amongst the UCT Community uncompromisingly opposes change and refuses to participate in debate, other than Fallists? Please provide a list of names of ‘opposers’ and document this reticence.
In short, the academic decolonization of UCT requires creating enabling environment that will promote debate, and “critical reflection” on the politics of the production, application and distribution of knowledge. This includes what counts as academic excellence in teaching, learning and academic research towards a socially responsive society.
Yet, until 2017, Fallists and their supporters failed to explain just what the mean by “critical reflection”.
Reaction by the UCT Executive
Rather than requiring faculties and departments to get their ‘decolonization acts together’ and giving them the authority and resources to do so, since the turn of the millennium, a large, increasingly powerful, centralized management has taken control of “transformation” leadership at UCT, at the expense of academics. There is even a DVC post created to facilitate the process. The shift in academic power downhill to Bremner/Azania House is well-documented in the “Moran Report” (available on page 4 of my Blog Site) commissioned in 2007 by VC Ndebele. The report strongly recommended that academic authority, decision-making and accountability be returned to faculties and departments, and UCT’s administrative sector revert to its original role as a small, effective support structure that must continuingly “justify its existence”.
These recommendations were not implemented.
Rather than let academics and students take the lead, the Price-led leadership created commission after commission, committee after committee, working group after working group and task team after task team, and ‘negotiated’ with unrepentant law-breakers to determine UCT’s policies and how they are to be implemented.
Recent examples of this ‘strategy’ relating to decolonization are Price and Price-Team’s creation of the:
1. the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG) to work with him and Prof. Loretta Feris (DVC for Transformation) to facilitate the engagement in decolonization by the “whole” UCT community, and
2. the Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission Steering Committee (IRTC-SC) set up according to the November Agreement to deal with past, current and future protest and chart UCT’s decolonization.
VC Price even supported the release of one of the Shackville ‘expelees’ from jail so he could negotiate and sign the Agreement. [He, like the faeces flinger, was subsequently ‘clemencied’, but was later accused of breaking through the door into the offices of the Campus Protection Services and of sexual harassment.]
After many meetings over many months, the IRTC-SC has reached no consensus, let alone agreement, concerning what constitutes illegitimate protest or how UCT’s management may deal with it. There have been no discussions about what decolonization is, let alone how to put it into effect. Currently, it is in deadlock because of boycotts by representatives of pro-Fallist “constituencies”.
Curriculum Change Working Group
By design, the CCWG is led by black scholars (mostly from the Faculties of Humanities and Health Sciences). CCWG members maintain that the “notion of blackness in this context extends beyond simply a racial category”. It embraces those who have a particular consciousness around coloniality. According to VC Price, the group has considerable experience, knowledge and expertise related to the development of contextually and socially relevant curricula, and are well versed in the use of inclusive approaches to teaching and learning.
CCWG members developed a concept paper and terms of reference, collaborating closely with faculty academic representatives, student representatives from faculty councils and those academics and students “who wanted to get involved”. Price urged the CCWG to engage with Fallists after it because there was deadlock between them and management.The CCWG Terms of Reference sets out membership, reporting lines, accountability, timeframes and deliverables of the working group. Its Preliminary Conceptual Framework was strongly influenced by student and staff protests of 2015. It was scheduled to complete a curriculum change academic planning framework by October 2017.
I have seen no such published “framework”.
CCWG members contributed to an article in The Conversation that purports to give a “clear and practical example” of the group’s work. This involved getting the Dean of Health Sciences to capitulate to Fallists’ demands when they occupied his offices, provided that they resumed attending classes.
The protesting Health Sciences students did not return to class.
Thereafter, DVC Feris and the CCWG used a theoretical framework based “critical realism” (CR) to get to work.
The only major Feris/CCWG decolonization effort to date was to recruit decolonist mathematician Prof. C.K. Raju to epistemically challenge science in general at UCT and “dogmatic” mathematical science in particular.
Raju’s actions at UCT had highly controversial consequences to say the least, potentially disastrous ones at worse. For the ‘short story’ of the Raju ‘Affair’, see the article in GroundUp. For the 100+-page ‘long story’, see the three-part commentary “Decolonizing Maths at UCT” in my Blog Site.
I deal with CR in another piece.