I am keenly aware of how we all have been affected by the challenges of recent weeks on campus – not to mention the turbulence of last year. When I initially started to write this letter, I envisaged that it would present me with an opportunity to welcome you to the start of the new academic year at the University of Cape Town; however the drama of the first week of term has overtaken me. And what it underlines for me so powerfully is how much I, and my executive team, rely on the contributions made on many fronts by dedicated and skilled colleagues.
I write to thank each of you for the patience, commitment and fortitude you are demonstrating in keeping our university in operation at such a high level of professionalism and academic excellence under these challenging conditions.
Heroic efforts have been made by the administrative staff who have had to deal with the unexpectedly large demand for residence accommodation, and related issues around fee debt and financial assistance.
Deferred exams ran smoothly, thanks to the dedication of the administrative personnel who produced the timetables and registered the results, and the academic staff who marked and processed unexpectedly large numbers of scripts during what is usually their "research month". Thanks too to the deans and their faculty staff for overseeing the whole operation.
I want to also thank all those who ensured the efficacy of our O-week activities, including parent orientation, registration and all the other events and services that help first-years find their feet at UCT. I spent some time mixing with parents and students, and could see how buoyant and enthusiastic the mood on campus was – with a larger than usual student intake palpably excited about their year ahead.
Thanks too to all those who managed a successful Summer School in January, which drew the usual large numbers of visitors onto campus.
The protest actions have put additional pressure on the Department of Student Affairs, the Communication and Marketing Department, Campus Protection Services (CPS), the Student Wellness Service, and the staff running our residences – the wardens in particular. To all of you, my grateful thanks.
I also salute all those involved in managing the security, maintenance and traffic concerns that escalated as a result of the protest action.
Every department at UCT continues to support the university community in ways that we can too often overlook and may not think to acknowledge every day. For instance, although the most high-profile challenge of early last year may have been the fate of the Rhodes statue, we also dealt with many episodes of load shedding, and the special maintenance, security and ICTS challenges that arose as a result of instability in our electricity supply.
We all take for granted that our university premises will be cleaned, our gardens tended, our laboratories serviced, and our Jammie Shuttles kept running throughout the year. I want to thank the staff who have enabled all of this – despite pressures and challenges in some instances, in the midst of protesting students.
I am also aware that the events of 2015 and the first few weeks of 2016 have created anxiety about the security situation on our campus. I want to assure you that your safety, as well as the safety of our students, remains of paramount importance at UCT. We have deployed additional security personnel on campus since the beginning of term and are working extremely hard with CPS to make sure that vandalism, violence and intimidation are prevented. However, when and where protests escalate, we will have no choice but to call in public order police services, as we did on Tuesday, 16 February 2016. I am pleased that classes continued without interruption last week.
I am also mindful of the concerns that are growing about crime on and around campus. CPS is working in partnership with the SA Police Service (SAPS) and the Groote Schuur Community Improvement District to monitor security and to alert the campus community to any trends that are of concern. Sexual assault more generally has been highlighted as something the campus is not adequately addressing. While the areas beyond the campus are not under our jurisdiction – and therefore need to be secured by the local SAPS – I am creating a Sexual Assault Rapid Response Team to help deal with assaults, and to liaise where necessary with the SAPS, health services, the courts and legal support. Details will be provided this week.
As you can see, in the midst of the uncertainty and concern generated by the ongoing protests, the year has gotten off to an energetic start. Thank you all for that.
Dr Max Price
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