Affirmative action here to stay - for now

14 September 2011 | Story by Newsroom

Assoc Prof David JacobsAssoc Prof David Jacobs spoke at the Faculty of Science Transformation Forum's panel discussion recently.

Debates on affirmative action often spark heated arguments, and the Faculty of Science Transformation Forum's panel discussion was no different.

Titled When to end Affirmative Action at UCT?, the event looked at the extent to which the university has achieved equity of staff, if there are mechanisms for strengthening the equity policy, and if there is need for supportive and/or alternative strategies.

Panel member Associate Professor David Jacobs suggested that UCT should transform from providing preferential access to certain races, genders and cultures, and from Eurocentric curricula. It should also, on the one hand, stop producing citizens who expect privilege and entitlement on the grounds of race and gender, and, on the other, who are disempowered and alienated.

"Both kinds of citizens are too myopic to become agents of change in a real world," he said.

Jacobs said UCT should be an institution where access is determined solely by merit, where the curricula celebrate all human civilisation achievements, and that the university should produce citizens who have a realistic view of the world.

UCT currently falls short of those ambitions, he said.

Fellow panellist, the vice-chancellor, Dr Max Price, commented that employment equity statistics show that the university's transformation process is largely on track. But that based on the graduate throughput, and how long it takes for the growing cohort of black PhDs to move up the career ladder through lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor to professorships, it would take between 25 to 30 years to achieve a 50-50 black/white staff ratio, and even longer to approximate the national demographics at all levels.

"But that doesn't mean we should favour black applicants in selection for 30 years because there are clearly downsides. Affirmative action is much more than the selection process. It includes identifying talent and potential, career development and acceleration. In my view, as one approximates 50-50, the pressures and imperatives for moving to 80-20 would diminish and probably be eliminated."

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.