Decolonise UCT Economics statement

27 May 2016 | Story by Newsroom

Distorting racism to appear progressive

That the largely pale patriarchal 'liberal' grouping that constitutes itself as the Academic Freedom Committee has released an asinine statement following Ken Hughes' invective affirming the sacrosanctity of academic freedom, even in instances of racism, comes as no surprise. For them, and the university, cowering behind a warped absolutist conception of academic freedom is a convenient and ever secure sanctuary that guards against legitimate agitation for urgent redress and reorientation of universities. This reorientation necessitates scrutiny of not only what is taught, but also who teaches it. As such, that the white and largely male philosophy department is disproportionately represented on the academic freedom committee tells us all we need to know about its outlook, and commitment to transformation and social justice. The demographic composition of the academic freedom committee, and prominence of its statement on the UCT homepage, highlights how disproportionately loud minority voices are when the concerns of the majority remain sidelined.

That the academic freedom committee chooses not to interrogate the substance of Ken Hughes' racist statement, but takes issue with decolonise UCT economics' measured response belies its position on matters of injustice. This notwithstanding, and like them, Decolonise UCT economics supports academic freedom, but is not so jaundiced in outlook, reductionist and fearful of losing its entrenched privilege owing to whiteness (at this and other universities) not to critique the very tenets of academic freedom. A contestation of ideas is after-all the cornerstone of education. To us, justice, in the form of sanctioning Ken Hughes by the school of economics and university, matters more than pandering to middle class sensibilities on academic freedom. One would have thought that the retired judge on the academic freedom committee would advocate for such justice, but the lack of reflexivity in the committee is perhaps an extension of his complicity in repression in Swaziland having sat on its bench until recently. To have him, or any committee of which he's a member, attempt to lecture us on any freedom is the height of irony!

Encroachment on academic freedom, as the academic freedom committee posits our disruption of Ken's lecture to be, is not more important than the offense caused to and pain felt by his students (black and white) and the broader university community. Were the academic freedom committee sincere in its efforts it would acknowledge this, stop its incessant navel gazing and masked attempts at maintaining privilege and belatedly support our call to decolonise the university and its curriculum.

Decolonise UCT Economics

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