Time of consolidation ahead for Price

23 April 2012

Dr Max Price

Dr Max Price has been reappointed as UCT's vice-chancellor for a second term; that, he believes, will allow him the time to consolidate those themes and initiatives he's kick-started over the past three-and-a-half years.

Most leaders elected for set terms of office, whether they head countries, sports teams or universities, like the idea of a second term. If the first is to get the ball rolling on grand visions and projects, the second term is to see them to fruition.

Dr Max Price is no exception. Recently reappointed as vice-chancellor for a second term that will run until 30 June 2018, Price now has an opportunity to see some ideas through to maturity - ideas that he first touted in his job interviews in 2008.

These would include many of the projects he unveiled in his installation lecture in August 2008 - an Afropolitan drive for the university, a more activist university, an innovative model for providing intellectual leadership in addressing social challenges, new transformation initiatives, and the new size and shape plan.

It took a while to get many of these projects going, explains Price. Things roll notoriously slowly at universities, and his strategic plan was approved by Council only towards the end of 2009, almost a year and a half into his term.

"The first year was basically an orientation period for me, to get to know the university and understand what the concerns and priorities were," he recalls.

Two years later and that strategic plan is taking wing, while Price's 'approval ratings' from Council and Senate are high - as confirmed through the voting in Senate and Council on the motion for his reappointment.

"I've enjoyed doing the job," says Price, "and feel that it's a privilege to be leading this university, and to see that our ambitions are being incrementally realised."

Installation to-do notes

What Price said in his installation lecture in August 2008, and how far along some of those projects are:

"That [Mafeje affair] legacy still plagues UCT, and the university community has still not adequately tackled the need for attitude shifts, culture shifts and proactive redress to ensure that black people and women feel at home here." The Khuluma programme was concluded and Transformation Services has just launched the in-house ADAPT programme to talk about the challenges of working in UCT's multicultural environment; an alternative system of dispute resolution and mediation has been implemented; the Ombud position was established and Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa dealt with some 100 visitors and enquiries in her first year of office. In 2012 we will repeat an institutional climate survey to see if we are making progress.
"(T)he vision of UCT becoming an Afropolitan university ... growth in African studies, particularly the economic sociologies – if you want to understand Africa – you must go to UCT." Buy-in from the university was the first objective; now that 'Afropolitan' is a buzzword, the university is setting up more and more collaborations across the continent; Price himself sits on the Council of the University of Ghana. Examples of growing expertise include the new chair and Centre for Comparative Law in Africa; the new School of Development Policy and Practice; the GSB focus on emerging markets and new chair in social entrepreneurship; the Institute for the Humanities in Africa; the African Climate and Development Initiative and pro VC; the Carnegie doctoral and postdoc programmes for next generation African academics; and many more.
"I know I am not alone in fearing for the increasing fragility of our fledgling democracy." UCT has established two chairs in constitutional governance and human rights, and both are now occupied by active commentators; there is daily political analysis and columns and you will have spotted academics, PASS staff and students - and the VC himself - at the Secrecy Bill marches and in other campaigns.
"UCT will not be afraid to speak out when other leadership and governance institutions in our society are failing us." Monitor the papers and see how often the VC, the university, its scholars and students have been speaking out.
"The second [threat] is HIV/AIDS and TB. Friends, the greatest public health disaster of our time will be our undoing if we do not make it our top priority." A large amount of money has been pumped into research in these areas, while the university's HIV/AIDS Co-ordination Unit provides outstanding support to students. The 2010 survey on prevalence and knowledge among UCT students and staff provided pleasing results.
"The third fatal threat is crime, particularly violent crime. Here I do not believe the university has been making a sufficient and coherent contribution." This has had a slower start because UCT has been unable to appoint a pro VC for the initiative. A Safety & Violence Initiative steering committee is up and running, which hosted a major conference in 2011. UCT is now re-advertising for a programme director.
"The fourth threat is the public school system, which has failed the country and the universities." The Schools Improvement Initiative has been created, headed by Dr Jonathan Clark since 2011. Activities include lobbying; the '100-UP' programme for 100 grade 10 through 12 learners to improve the feeder system to UCT; collaboration with the Khayelitsha Development Forum and the WC Department of Education.
"UCT will ... create the conditions for a vibrant, argumentative university ..." Perhaps nothing represents this better than the countless formal and informal debates on the admissions policy. Following the work of the Admissions Policy Review Task Team set up under Prof Crain Soudien in 2009, UCT has now established a commission under Judge Howie to include public views. Debate and thinking continue, but importantly, no-one has been called 'racist' because of the views they hold.
"I pledge ... this university will provide you with an education that is – internationalised and world class." UCT's position as a world-class university has continued to improve each year. The university receives delegations from other universities every week seeking exchanges and collaboration. The optional course Global Citizenship and Social Justice, open to all students, is running for the third year.

Later additions

Topics that didn't come up in the installation lecture, but have done so a lot since then:

Climate change: much was being done already, but needed to be pulled together to ensure UCT could have more impact. Established the African Climate and Development Initiative in 2011, and appointed Prof Mark New as the university's pro vice-chancellor for climate change.
Poverty and inequality UCT has appointed an interim pro vice-chancellor, Prof Francis Wilson, to corral research in this area and organise a national conference in September 2012, to inform and influence the work of the National Planning Commission.
The university's throughput rates in some faculties, while better than most, are nowhere near where UCT would like them to be. UCT is adapting its size and shape plans. First-year numbers will not grow as they have previously; rather, the university will meet its targets by concentrating on teaching and learning, and keeping students in the system for longer.

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