13 January 2017
Dear colleagues and students
There have been a number of commentaries published on the agreement to establish an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) at the University of Cape Town, and on the Executive’s practice of engaging with protesters about issues that merit discussion in higher education and the success of that strategy. This letter is to provide clarity on points that have been misrepresented or misunderstood.
Teaching time lost to protest disruptions: It has been claimed that UCT lost as much as two-thirds of the second semester last year. In fact, only four out of 12 of the teaching weeks in the second semester were disrupted.
Financial costs of violence: There have also been claims that UCT is not disclosing the costs of violent behaviour on campus last year. In fact, we have responded to media queries on this question, as follows:
While insurance covers most of the financial costs of physical damage to property, there are of course other costs, such as the cultural value of the destroyed artworks and the psychological and emotional effects to staff members and students who are involved in the affected labs, lecture halls, offices, residences and classrooms – costs that cannot be measured in monetary value alone. The damage to the Geological Sciences lab affects the work of outside institutions from all over the world that send samples to be evaluated.
Global rankings: UCT’s drop in global rankings has been blamed on the protests of 2015, however Professor Danie Visser wrote last year, in an article published by The Conversation, that underfunding by the government has been one of the major reasons for this drop, which has affected all South African universities. As Prof Visser has written: “It is perfectly possible for an institution to improve its scores and still see a significant drop in the rankings. This is because scores are ranked and so performance is relative. If other institutions have improved their scores even more than yours, they will climb above your institution in the rankings. This is important. It’s exactly what is happening to South African universities. Institutions from elsewhere in the world are improving much more significantly. And it is no coincidence that the countries which are seeing a rapid rise in the rankings are mostly those that have chosen to invest heavily in their universities.” You can read the full article here.
Concerns about the IRTC steering committee: UCT is committed to shaping the IRTC in an inclusive way. The steering committee will comprise 19 representatives plus 19 alternates, who will engage individually with their constituencies to inform the process of finalising the terms of reference for the IRTC.
Professor Francis Petersen
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