Underhill, Higgins are new UCT Fellows

04 November 2002
PROFESSORS Les Underhill, Director of the Avian Demography Unit (ADU), and John Higgins from the Department of English Language and Literature, are UCT's two new Fellows, announced recently at the Annual Fellows Dinner at the Breakwater Lodge.

The Fellowships will be officially awarded to the duo at the December graduations.

Higgins (left) is honoured for his “signal contribution” to English studies. “Higgins belongs to a generation of expatriate scholars who, in the mid-1980s, made the deliberate choice to place at the service of this University their intelligence, expertise and political consciousness, at a time when we were under siege by apartheid,” reads an excerpt from his citation.

Trained at King's, Cambridge and Ecole normale supérieure, Paris, Higgins decided to engage with the nature, content and function of English studies from the standpoint of post-Marxism in South Africa.

“His resolve to see how this mainstay of education, 'English', was, on the one hand, to respond to the deadening atrophy neo-capitalism and its media inflict on popular culture; and on the other, how such studies could contribute to the demise of a fascist culture, apartheid, and to the edification of a new democratic culture in South Africa,” the citation continues. “With this double aim in mind, and armed with uncanny political acumen, resilient resolve in the face of adversity and deft and innovative use of European post-Marxist philosophy, that of his master, Raymond Williams, in particular, John Higgins embodies the 'engaged scholar'.”

Underhill (left) is honoured as a “consummate statistical scientist”, having made a major contribution to several diverse aspects of statistics, ornithological and marine sciences.

After graduating with a PhD in Mathematical Statistics in 1973, he “rebelled” against abstract mathematics and retrained himself as an applied mathematician. Extracts from his citation read: “In 1991 he started the Avian Demography Unit, which brought out the Atlas of Southern African Birds. He now leads a strong team of staff and students, with co-supervisors drawn from the pool of expertise outside of the universities; this group is tackling a wide array of marine and wetland projects.

“His commitment to the African Penguin dates back to a ringing expedition on Dassen Island in 1973. He was deeply involved with the Apollo oil spill of 1994, demonstrating unequivocally that cleaning oiled penguins made conservation sense. During the 2000 oil spill, Underhill was responsible for the website that depicted the travels of 'Peter', 'Percy' and 'Pamela', still the world's most famous penguins.

“His enduring contributions to statistical methods include the prey-switching model, the order of the avian primary moult model, and work in the generation of random orthogonal matrices. Contributions to techniques of statistical analysis include work on basic structure display and low-dimensional representation of highly complex multi-dimensional data. His extensive programmes were included in the package GENSTAT, a software product emerging from Rothamsted Experimental Station, the source of the modern discipline of biometry.”

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