"All citizens have a role to play in HE" - DVC designate

25 May 2002
Close encounters: Professor Cheryl de la Rey is preparing to take office as the new DVC.

Monday Paper spoke to newly-appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Associate Professor Cheryl de la Rey, last week, as she prepares herself to take office on July 1, and asked her some questions about her new job and on being a black woman entering the formerly exclusive echelons of university management.

MP: You did your PhD on the Career narratives of women professors in South Africa – is there a typical experience for such women?

CdlR: The experiences are racially varied, but there are common threads for all women. If I had to summarise, the common thread would be that all women had to juggle multiple tasks, having family and domestic responsibilities, and work. And, of course, this puts limitations on their career prospects. Just look at the numbers, and you have to conclude that there's a problem. Also, if one looks at how intellectual life is generally organised, from the time of the inception of universities as an institution, intellectual life and organisational life have been associated with men.

MP: Not having children, do you think that this has made it easier for you to achieve your professional goals? A nasty question, we know.

CdlR: (a smile) Yes, it is a nasty question, but a good one. Research shows that having children per se is not a factor that affects productivity, but whether there are support mechanisms to assist women in child-rearing. Over a long career period, there's no significant difference between women who have kids and women who don't. These studies have, however, been in countries where there are good support mechanisms, not in South Africa.

MP: Do you see yourself as a role model, or as a champion of the women's cause?

CdlR: I see myself as a supporter of the cause.

MP: The move from social psychology to educational management, was that a sharp change of career path?

CdlR: No. I've always had these two kinds of lives, what was demarcated as my research into social psychology, and my involvement in civil organisations. But, from about the 1990s at Durban-Westville, I started doing research into issues that I was interested in as an activist, and that was when the two came together. Gender and higher education has been a research interest, as well as a personal, activist interest.

MP: What do you think you bring to UCT management, being a young – younger than our other DVCs – black woman, and being only the second woman – and black woman – elected to the post?

CdlR: I think the experience of having been through the system in various positions, from the days of applying to be a student [at the University of Natal] under the permit system. And I went through the 1980s, being a part of student activism and, in the early 1990s, the policy debates. At the University of Durban-Westville, I held portfolios in the staff association, and most people would know that the university had one of the most active staff associations. So, I've sat at the other side of the table when it came to salary negotiations (a laugh). Then, of course, there's been the work I have done with the Department of Education, my experience as an executive director of the NRF and as deputy chair of the Cape Technikon Council.

MP: Do you think women have a specific role to play in higher education?

CdlR: All citizens have a role to play in higher education. The problem has been the exclusion of some citizens in this country, women and black people. And higher education has been the poorer for not having us here.

MP: What, in your view, are some of the problems facing higher education in South Africa?

CdlR: For me, one of the big issues is increasing research productivity. Secondly, we should ensure that the demographics of who produces the knowledge changes. We need to make sure that young women, young black academics enter the system, that they don't merely enter the system as consumers and disseminators of knowledge, but as producers as well.

MP: Do you have any specific goals for your new post?

CdlR: I think that if I have an individual goal, it would be to be consultative, to ensure that there's participation in the way that goals are formulated and certainly a certain amount of agreement among the entire community as to what those goals are. Individually formulated goals in the absence of buy-in are unlikely to succeed.

MP: Are you married?

CdlR: Yes, I am. For a long time. My husband works in the private sector, for an engineering company.

MP: What was the last CD you bought?

CdlR: Judith Sephuma's latest CD.

MP: Last question, and probably the most important one. Are you going to see Spiderman?

CdlR: (A laugh again) Of course I am.

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