A day in the life of Emerita Professor Linda Ronnie

30 April 2024 | Story Lisa Templeton. Photo Robyn Walker. Read time 7 min.
Emerita Prof Linda Ronnie
Emerita Prof Linda Ronnie

“Unless there is something really urgent, a day typically starts with me getting up at 07:00 and getting on the treadmill for around 45 minutes of walking,” said Emerita Professor Linda Ronnie, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) acting deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for Teaching and Learning. She walks some 50 km a week. “I do it for exercise and to clear my mind.” She enjoys the meditative nature of the exercise. “There are so many different parts to this role and it gives me time to think.”

After the first of many cups of rooibos, she heads out for a day largely comprised of meetings, as she holds responsibility for overseeing UCT’s teaching and learning portfolio, with its various committees, as well as line-managing the deans, UCT Libraries and the Institutional Planning Department.

We sat in her office in the Bremner Building. Outside it’s a crisp autumn day. Inside, the office is decorated with succulents and family pictures. “As I have so many meetings here, it has to be a place my colleagues feel relaxed, but also focused.” Emerita Professor Ronnie believes in entering meetings well prepared, with goals set and achievements to be met.

Dressed in purple, she is slim, lively and sharp. She is also highly accomplished.


“My passion is teaching. I get re-energised in the classroom.”

Along with juggling the complexities and demands of being acting DVC of Teaching and Learning at an institution the size of UCT, she has added the 2024 wage negotiations to her portfolio, using her negotiation, conflict handling and interpersonal skills.

“Dealing with the PASS [professional, administrative support and service] staff unions is a temporary addition to the role which has given me the opportunity to meet a range of employees, who show commitment to the university and its sustainability.” It’s a difficult time, she noted, as UCT, like many institutions, faces financial challenges.

As Professor Emerita: Organisational Behaviour and People Management with a long history at the UCT Graduate School of Business, she still teaches executive courses and supervises postgraduate students, while continuing her own research whenever she finds time. 

“My passion is teaching. I get re-energised in the classroom. Research is something I’ve had to learn to love, but it’s now an integral part of who I am.”

Teaching is all about impact

“People will tell you I always want to know about impact. We cannot just say we have run a programme. We need to know: what did the students get out of it? What difference has it made? How are we assessing and monitoring the impact of teaching and learning?” said Ronnie, who meets with staff regularly.

“How are we going to know what we can do better?”

This particularly resonates at undergraduate level. “All sorts of things are happening, but how do we know what works. You don’t achieve sustainable success through micro efforts – you need a macro plan, strategy and accountability.”

It is all about putting the student through a degree in the allotted time, a win for both student and institution.

As someone who still supervises postgraduate students and doing her own research towards publishing – “you have never arrived, just like any good academic” – she keeps a finger on the pulse of academia.

“I think it is really important for this portfolio that I am still an academic. I have an understanding of what it is to be an academic in this institution; to be in the classroom. I understand the criticality of our support staff in the academic project.”

It’s been 30 years since the first democratic elections, what has changed in teaching?

“We have made good strides towards transformation in terms of our student body, staff profile and who is publishing, although there is still much to be done,” Ronnie noted.

“We need to continue to build on our reputation so that UCT, despite our challenges, remains a leading university in South Africa, on the continent and globally. Key to being competitive is our excellent academic and PASS staff, engaging in relevant research, and continuing to develop progressive policies, effective curriculum-change initiatives and relevant teaching practices that ensure we showcase the potential of all our students.”

A number of initiatives are already in place, she said, adding that the teaching and learning portfolio has become a lot more complex.


“Key to being competitive is our excellent academic and PASS staff, engaging in relevant research, and continuing to develop progressive policies.”

She speaks from a broad perspective, given her involvement as academic advisor to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET’s) Future Professors Programme, run by Stellenbosch University.

“The challenge is to attract new people while still motivating and retaining current academics,” she remarked. This is the subject of frequent discussions with the deans of faculties and the Academic Union.

Ronnie also has regular meetings with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), “a bunch of energised, opinionated and committed students”, to keep a finger on the student pulse.

Life beyond the treadmill

So, who is Ronnie beyond UCT? At home, is Charlie, the Labrador-cross from SPCA with a penchant for eating bookmarks, and Coco the puzzle-piece eating cat.

She is an avid reader. “Mostly crime … Well, completely crime.”

We immediately bonded over Deon Meyer’s books, the likeability of recovering alcoholic Hawk, Benny Griessel and his SAPS partner, the charismatic Vaughn Cupido.

“There’s something very satisfying about a crime novel. It pretty much always gets solved. The fun is guessing where the author is taking you.”

She also likes Michael Robotham, Margie Orford and Clare Mackintosh. “Margie, particularly, has changed the way I view how women are portrayed in these stories.”

Once a hockey and soccer player, she is an Orlando Pirates and Arsenal fan, although her family no longer join her at matches. Why? “I shout advice to the referees, mostly about what they should do with themselves,” she said with a grin.

She also loves tennis and is a Roger Federer fan. “Not only did he show the sport as an art form, but he is part South African. And we share a birthday!”

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