Affirmative action here to stay - for now

19 September 2011

Assoc Prof David JacobsOn track: Assoc Prof David Jacobs addresses the Faculty of Science Transformation Forum's panel discussion..

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 a 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 stop producing citizens who expect privilege and entitlement on the grounds of race and gender, on one hand, and who are disempowered and alienated on the other.

"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 the archievements of human civilisation, 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, vice-chancellor Dr Max Price, said that employment equity statistics show that the university's transformation process is largely on track. But based on the graduate throughput, and on how long it takes for the growing cohort of black PhDs to move up the career ladder through lecturer, senior lecturer and associate professor to professor, 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 will 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.