VC Desk: On transformation: looking back at 2015
Released: 12h00, 11 March 2016

11 March 2016 | Story by Newsroom

11 March 2016

Dear colleagues and students,

In January, my first VCDesk of the year reflected on the accomplishments and challenges of 2015. This communique is a continuation of the first one, dealing specifically with our record of transformation in 2015 and marking the anniversary of the start of the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) protests.

The project of transformation is multifaceted. Committed to overcoming the legacy of apartheid and colonialism in the university system, it encompasses:

  • changes to the demography profile of the staff and student bodies
  • teaching and learning, including curriculum design
  • staff development
  • institutional culture, including artworks and other symbols
  • addressing manifestations of racism and sexism.

Efforts by the University of Cape Town in these respects have been ongoing for many years. But last year saw a marked acceleration – largely in response to the challenge levelled by the RMF campaign and other lobby groups such as the Black Academic Caucus, the Students' Representative Council (SRC), Faculty Student Councils, student formations such as Patriarchy Must Fall and LGBTQIA lobbies, the UCT Left Students Forum, staff unions and several others. In this document I report on the key interventions of 2015 stimulated by these campaigns. The project will continue even more vigorously in 2016 – as there is still much work to be done.

The campaign to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes shifted people. As I see it, many on the campus had not been opposed to transformation but had felt this was someone else's task and that they could just get on with their regular academic or administrative business. Others felt that the relatively slow, evolutionary pace that had characterised previous efforts at transformation was appropriate for a complex institution like a university, in which change is bound to provoke disagreement, uncertainty or conflict, and therefore was likely to be a slow process if it were to be suitably inclusive. The debates around the statue put the issue of transformation centre stage at UCT, produced a high degree of consensus about the need to act more quickly and decisively in respect of transformation generally, and brought home to people that transformation affects everyone and is everyone's responsibility.

I believe most, if not all, of us have been challenged to think more deeply about what institutional racism means and to acknowledge how differently UCT is experienced by many black students and staff compared to their white counterparts. I and others have accepted that the pace of transformation has been too slow on many fronts. Through participating in many meetings with academic leaders, heads of academic departments and managers across the institution, I am also convinced that there is a widespread commitment among this leadership group to accelerate transformation dramatically, to make a decisive break with the past, and to take personal responsibility and be held accountable for driving change.

Transformation interventions since March 2015

Key interventions have included the appointment of Associate Professor Elelwani Ramugondo as my special advisor on transformation; employment equity programmes; creating forums for views not usually voiced; addressing the dominance on campus of the symbols that reflect a particular, white or colonial, heritage; student access; gender and sexual harassment issues; curriculum reform; and insourcing.

These programmes are all aligned with the new five-year strategic plan, which is currently being finalised. The plan is also the transformation plan for UCT since its key element is the way transformation infuses all elements of our repositioning over the next period.

Creating new spaces for all to be heard

Each of the faculties held faculty assemblies intended to open safe spaces, especially for black students, to talk about how they experienced the institution. Some professional, administrative, support and service (PASS) departments also held similar open meetings. These encounters have raised many issues, and faculties are taking them up on the strength of further discussion and investigation. The issues raised included concerns about racism in classroom settings, a dearth of black intellectual voices in the curriculum and other curriculum issues, and risks of stigmatisation associated with academic development programmes.

Demographic transformation and employment equity
  • A new five-year employment equity plan was extensively debated and approved by Senate, the Institutional Forum, the University Transformation Advisory Committee and Council. Read the plan.
  • Several faculty boards reviewed the composition of their ad hominem promotion committees. Senate approved the substantial reconstitution of one of the faculty ad hom committees before the 2015 ad hom process kicked off, while changes to others may be made this year.
  • Some faculties and departments have decided to advertise all positions using the targeted employment equity statement, which indicates that the post should preferably be filled by a black South African.
  • The Recruitment, Development and Retention programme (RDR) has been initiated under the supervision of Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Francis Petersen. One leg of this programme is the new Next Generation Professoriate. Thirty-five middle-level and senior academics from designated groups and from all faculties have been selected and have started the programme, which is designed to ensure that within five years they will be promoted to associate or full professors. Another project within RDR is the Next Generation Academics Programme (mostly aimed at recruiting students entering their PhD studies into an academic career), which is funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training.
  • There has been much concern that deans and academic heads of departments were not being held accountable for transformation of staff demography in the faculties. This has been discussed and the point has been re-emphasised that they are indeed responsible and accountable for this, and mechanisms for ensuring such accountability are being developed in consultation at each level.
  • We have increased the allocation from the Vice-Chancellor's Strategic Fund for equity posts (to provide opportunities to make appointments of equity candidates even when there may not be a vacancy).
  • We are examining human resources data to see whether different criteria are being used to appoint or promote black academics compared to white, how long it takes black and white academics to be promoted from one grade to the next, and whether there is any bias in extending appointments over the age of 65.
  • A review is being conducted of the reports submitted by the employment equity (EE) representatives on selection committees to see whether such reports were submitted in every case, whether they were reviewed by the relevant oversight person, and to what extent EE representatives raised concerns about the selection process.

The track record in 2015 for senior executive appointments demonstrates this serious commitment to employment equity. Seven posts were filled (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research; Deans of Law, Commerce, Health Sciences and Engineering and the Built Environment; Registrar; and Executive Director: Finance). All appointees are from the designated groups: four are women and five are black. However, changing the profile of the professoriate at UCT remains our toughest challenge.

Curriculum reform

A Curriculum Review Planning Group has been established to coordinate a wider group with representatives from all faculties, reporting to the Teaching and Learning Committee. The groups are engaging with three sets of issues:

  1. the relevance of curricula for the South African and broader African contexts
  2. opportunities for greater breadth in undergraduate curricula
  3. creating research and service-learning opportunities for students to engage more with key challenges facing the continent.

A launch of the concept paper and terms of reference has been planned for this month. The Vice-Chancellor's Strategic Fund has made funding available to support this curriculum initiative.

Within faculties, many concrete initiatives are already under way. One example, from the Humanities faculty, is the decision to establish an undergraduate African studies major, which is due for launch in 2017.

The Senate executive recently finalised a policy to recognise in the academic transcript a student's engagement with volunteer service, leadership and other non-curricular learning activities related to UCT's graduate attributes.

Institutional culture and symbolic landscape
  • A task team of six, including three SRC-nominated student members, was appointed by Council to review the names of buildings. Largely because of the unavailability of student members from the mid-October study break until the start of this semester, this committee has made limited progress. However, the team has completed an audit of building names. This team will first tackle the question of Jameson Hall, followed by four other buildings whose names have been questioned, and will solicit from the campus community the names of other buildings or spaces that individuals believe should be reviewed. A process for consultation has been developed, which will be advertised in the next week.
  • Another task team of six people, including three nominated by the SRC, was appointed by Council to consider how to manage the university's art collections (including portraits, plaques and sculptures) in response to the impression being created by the collective works on display that UCT is not inclusive. Again, progress has been slower than we would have liked for reasons already mentioned. The team has produced an inventory of commemorative plaques, sculptures and statues, and there is already an inventory of works of art. It has also identified a number of works in public spaces that are controversial to the point of causing offence to some viewers. The Works of Art Committee has temporarily removed some of these while the broader issues of how the university should deal with such works are being considered. The task team will now consult widely with staff and students to identify other works of art that are considered offensive, and the grounds for that judgment. It will develop a policy on future acquisitions, displays in public spaces and galleries, and curation (related to the collective impact of a display of artworks, portraits, etc.) in a particular setting.
  • The graduation ceremony of December 2015 was modified as a pilot. The musical items were changed (Gaudeamus igitur and other items were replaced by South African music) and a praise singer was included in the programme.
  • The most important interventions around institutional climate are conversations and gaining insight into how we see and treat one another. There have been a number of faculty and departmental forums held to open up such spaces. Some lecturers have created classroom discussions unrelated to their disciplines to encourage students to talk about how they experience the university and their colleagues. As the executive, we have attempted to keep open the space for dialogue and have even accepted disruption at public events and lectures, and extended occupations, in the interests of promoting a constructive engagement with all groups. We will continue to do this provided the engagement is lawful, peaceful and respectful.
Student access
  • The new admissions policy was implemented for the first time in the latter part of 2015 for admissions in 2016. The policy is designed to increase both the number of black students as well as the number of disadvantaged students. We were monitoring the offers being made as the selection process proceeded and were satisfied that a higher proportion of offers were being made to black students than in previous years. The take-up of offers, reflected in actual registrations, including an analysis of the change in social class distribution, will be done in the next few months.
Rights related to gender, sexual orientation and harassment
  • A team with external experts was established to review the Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO), which had been criticised for not being effective in addressing sexual harassment on campus. The review team completed its work and the report is being considered by stakeholders. In the meantime, in response to an increase in reported rapes both on and off campus, a Sexual Assault Response Team was established, headed by Associate Professor Sinegugu Duma, to ensure a 24/7, seamless and responsive support service for sexual assault survivors.
  • Responding to concerns that sexual assault perpetrators were not being sentenced appropriately by the Student Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), I requested Professor Rashida Manjoo to review all the SDT cases of the last five years. There were 17 such cases, of which records were adequate for 15. The sentences were generally found to be appropriate. One recent sentence was considered too lenient and the university has initiated an appeal to increase this sentence.
  • A sexuality and gender policy has been drafted and is being discussed.
  • We have in the meantime acknowledged the need to move away from the assumption of binary (female/male) gender classification and we recognise the right of individuals to self-classify their gender. We have implemented a third option for gender identification on student application forms. A working group is examining the implications for all our administrative systems of the move away from binary gender classification.
  • Inclusivity workshops for first year students: So far, the HIV/AIDS Inclusivity & Change Unit (HAICU) has facilitated 60 workshops with first years for roughly 4 000 students in all faculties and residences during the orientation programme for 2016. In addition, HAICU has facilitated inclusivity workshops for mentors and facilitators in various student support programmes. These workshops focus on educating and sensitising new and returning students to issues of gender-based violence, patriarchy, sexual orientation, HIV, human rights and social justice. These workshops allow students an opportunity to critically examine how we speak and the traditions in residences around songs, practices and pub cultures. In this way they help to create an inclusive environment.
Labour relations and outsourcing

Perhaps one of the most significant transformation interventions in 2015 was the decision to insource the workers and services currently provided by six contracting companies (security, catering, two cleaning services, gardening and the UCT transport service, the Jammie Shuttle). Can we take credit for this? Probably not, in the sense that management and Council had resisted this even up until October in view of the impact of insourcing on our cost structure, among other things. However, we also had long understood the exploitation of workers consequent upon outsourcing. UCT Council had put in place measures with which the contracting employers were required to comply – such as minimum wages, job security when contracts began and ended, and oversight of employment practices. The moral and social justice case for insourcing and its impact on reducing income inequality was well understood. The pressure from students and workers when insourcing became part of the national shut-down campaign tilted the balance for us in weighing up the costs and benefits. However, the decision was not just a careful calculation of costs and benefits, it was also a profound and conscious step along the transformation path and a commitment to social justice.

Governance processes

Council appointed a task team to review the Institutional Forum (IF), which it felt was failing to address transformation issues and effectively bring stakeholders into a common forum. The review team completed its report, which was submitted to the IF last month for initial response.

The Transformation Services Office (TSO) has also been reviewed and the report was just submitted. This coincided with the retirement of Director Glenda Wildschut of the TSO and the departure of DVC for transformation, Professor Crain Soudien. Although we have advertised to fill the DVC post, no suitable candidate has been found. Meanwhile, Professor Anwar Mall is in the position in an acting capacity.

Last June, following the removal of the Rhodes statue, we created a Transformation Dialogue Forum, including students (SRC, Student Assembly and RMF), academics, deans and heads of department, PASS staff, the Black Academic Caucus, the IF, trade unions and management. The forum has struggled to get going, but is expected to review UCT's new strategic and transformation plan in the next month.

Transformation plans for 2016

First off will be consultations on the new five-year strategic plan. We expect that once it is signed off by Council in June 2016, the plan will guide ongoing and new transformation programmes.

  • We will implement recommendations regarding the transformation office including DISCHO, HAICU, Disability Services, the University Transformation Advisory Committee, the IF and the DVC for transformation post. We will recruit a strong candidate to the DVC vacancy.
  • The major focus in the plan is how transformation impacts on teaching and learning, curricula, academic support programmes and the research agendas.
  • The task teams on names of buildings and works of art will accelerate their work.
  • Further work will be done on reimagining graduation ceremonies.
  • There will be a continued focus on employment equity – recruitment, analysis of obstacles to promotion, the RDR programme and, in particular, finding more concrete mechanisms of accountability for deans and heads of department. We will continue the roll out of 360-degree surveys of managers' performance, assessing climates within departments. There will be a new training programme for employment equity representatives and selection committee chairs.
  • There should be regular transformation forums in faculties and departments.
  • The Next Generation Professoriate and RDR programmes will be strengthened.
  • We will review the ad hominem promotion criteria to ensure they are fair.
  • We will review the admissions policy following analysis of the first year of implementation.
  • We will strengthen mental health services in Student Wellness, particularly with the addition of black therapists, and consider alternative healing modalities.
  • If possible, we will move Disability Services to a more accessible venue and investigate challenges presented by the disability lobby.
  • With regard to LGBTQIA issues, we will increase the number of gender-neutral toilets and relook at our administration systems, public statements and positions, and the possibility of targeted awareness campaigns within residences.
  • We will review UCT's residence allocation policy to deal with the accommodation issues experienced at the start of the year.
  • We will seek private and public funding to build at least one more residence.

2015 was a challenging but exciting year in UCT's trajectory of transformation, signalling a decisive break with the past. 2016 will see these transformation programmes gain further momentum in creating a new identity for UCT.


Dr Max Price

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