New exam timetable is a win – win

10 January 2008

UCT is a public institution and cannot be partisan to any religion, though its secular nature should be flexible enough to accommodate religion.

Broadly, this was the answer to the question, Should UCT, as a secular university, accommodate religion?, posed at a public debate last week.

This was chaired by Professor Paula Ensor of the School of Education and hosted by the Faculty of Humanities.

The discussants were SASCO's Tembe Makofane, and Professors David Benatar (philosophy), Anton Fagan (private law) and Abdulkader Tayob (religious studies). The debate grew out of discussions in Senate, prompted by objections from Jewish and Muslim students to the new exam timetable that interfered with their religious observances.

It was agreed that the Faculty of Humanities would open the discussion to the broader university community.

Fagan argued that the institution could be burdened by imposing partisan rules of different weights for different religions. Tayob said the institution was already partisan, having been shaped around Christian holidays and called for a "mutual construction".

Makofane said religion had to be considered at the university, pointing to the religious freedom enshrined in the country's Constitution and the very many students who belonged to over 20 religious organisations at UCT.

Benatar said the university should be neutral and non-religious as opposed to anti-religious. He said the new university calendar served the community better and promoted a win-win situation for the institution and all of its students.

Speaking from the floor, registrar Hugh Amoore noted that when the university had suggested that an optimal timetable be constructed around all seven days of the week, it had not received any support for the idea from students.

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