15 October 2016
Dear colleagues, students
I write to share with you our plans for the rest of the academic year at the University of Cape Town. I have included headings in the hope that it assists in the reading of the communication.
I wish to thank you very much for your extreme patience in this time of crisis. Despite ongoing uncertainty and continued shifts in terms of opening and closing the institution, most of you have remained calm and deeply committed to UCT. Thank you so very much for this.
Your support, determination and loyalty deepen our sense of responsibility and determination to find solutions.
We view our main task right now as finding a sustainable way for UCT to open and continue its academic and other work. Ideally, we wish to do so without having a long-term and extensive security presence on campus; we are mindful of the attendant risks of escalating violence and anger. In addition, we wish to make urgent progress on transformation matters and the demands of many students and staff for change. In the final analysis, our ultimate job is to deliver the academic programme in an open and responsive institution. This remains our ongoing commitment. It must also be emphasised, however, that we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of those who work and study at UCT, and to defend our premises.
In the spirit of our commitment to engaging with the legitimate demands of staff and students, extensive effort has gone into an attempt to find an agreement with protesting students, in the hope of securing an assurance from them not to disrupt operations any further.
There have been ongoing, extensive engagements, on many occasions and for many hours – including negotiations facilitated by an independent professional mediator. The latter have been live-streamed on the Facebook site of UCT Just Kidding, and are available for all to view. The student group that has been party to these negotiations (comprising mostly candidates for election to the SRC) has numerous and shifting demands. The executive has been willing to address many of the issues, in the interests of an agreement. Sadly, such an agreement is not yet in place.
I believe that no solution will be sustainable without us reaching agreement with a significant proportion of the student body, and by dealing with the legitimate demands in the current mix. So efforts at engagement will continue and we will never give up on that. But we have to accept that, for the moment, the leaders of the protesting students do not yet accept the need to continue the academic programme without disruption.
Regrettably, this leaves us in a position where a decision must be made without the agreement in place.
The point of no return
We are now reaching the “point of no return” in terms of saving the academic year, which adds to the urgency of our current decision. Our situation is this: If classes start on Monday, 17 October 2016, we can still save the teaching term and write the exams between 7 and 25 November. If we do not return on Monday, the academic term is lost and the consequences are absolutely dire. In other words, we are out of time.
The plan as from Monday, 17 October 2016
All undergraduate face-to-face classes are suspended. All faculties and departments will ensure that the planned curriculum (i.e. what was to be delivered for this year) will be made available to students in alternative and mixed teaching modes to be determined by each faculty and department as per their specific needs.
Postgraduate studies that rely on classroom teaching will also be delivered using alternative mixed mode and online methods. Research- and project-based postgraduate work should be arranged on an individual basis with supervisors and course conveners.
The exams will be held from 7 November 2016 to 25 November 2016. Results are then expected on 23 December 2016. It must be noted that in the case of the Humanities, Engineering and Health Sciences faculties, the same will apply and exams will be written on the above dates. But in addition, for those particular faculties some work and some examining might have to be concluded in a mini-semester at the beginning of next year, as contact time and laboratory work is needed to conclude that work. All further detailed arrangements will be provided by departments and faculties directly to students. All students should make decisions based on communications directly from their specific faculty.
Deferred exams will be held from 9 to 20 January 2017. Students can choose between one of two options: either to write the full block of exams in November 2016 (as per the dates above), or to write the full block of deferred exams in January 2017. The time table for both blocks of exams (November 2016 and January 2017) will be released together so that students can make an informed choice. Exams have to be concluded in one block or the other. Requests to write individual courses in a different block will be considered by exception only, and after a formal application process.
In order for students to conclude their work and prepare for exams, we will open the libraries. The Jammie shuttle will be operational. Study areas and many computer laboratories will be open, and critical services across campus will be sustained to support students as they conclude their work for the year and prepare for the exams. Staff will be available to provide the necessary support to students.
It is of great concern that we may face disruptions when some services come into operation from Monday. Hence, it is an inevitability that security will be present and other security on standby, to be deployed if operations are threatened. We do so reluctantly because we understand that staff and students are divided on this issue, and security on campus has a negative collateral impact. Also, we recognise that this is not conducive to an educational environment. We are committed to resorting to the minimum force necessary to protect people and operations.
The other scenarios
I wish to thank the deans and heads of academic departments who have worked tirelessly to explore several alternative options to save the year. Careful and thoughtful consideration has been given to a range of options:
- closing UCT and returning to complete 2016 in 2017;
- opening classes and operations fully with security and concluding the academic curriculum and exams in 2016;
- opening without security; and
- continuing with minimal classroom teaching with exams in 2016.
All these options present specific pros and cons. We have chosen the option around which there is the greatest degree of consensus, and in the conviction that this presents the best possible opportunity under difficult circumstances to conclude the academic year successfully.
I appeal to the entire UCT community to rally behind the effort to conclude the academic year successfully. Once again, I thank you deeply for your patience and your loyalty to UCT and its academic objective. Please commit to do your part to allow all our students to conclude this academic year.
Dr Max Price