Clarity on effects of protest and setting up the IRTC steering committee

13 January 2017

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:

  • In February 2016, the damage to property that was incurred amounted to a total of R3.2 million. A Jammie shuttle bus and a bakkie, which were both used by students, were burnt, while the Vice-Chancellor’s office in the Bremner Building was petrol bombed. A number of historic paintings of priceless cultural and historic value were destroyed, statues and signage were damaged by vandalism, and a number of windows were smashed.
  • The total costs of the damage caused during the September/October 2016 protests is yet to be determined. The damage includes a UCT Toyota Hilux double cab bakkie, which was used by students and researchers in the Geological Sciences Department, being destroyed by fire in the early hours of 14 October. Arson is suspected. Vents from the specialised air filtration system worth millions of rands and located in the Geological Sciences building took in fumes and smoke from the fire. An assessor was appointed by the insurer and will provide a report on the extent and costs of the damage. There have also been cases of broken doors and smashed windows.

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.

  • All the key constituencies that form part of the university environment are represented on the committee.
  • The student and academic sectors have the most representatives – five each – which we believe appropriately reflects the importance of the academic and student sectors in the wider university community.
  • The Alumni Advisory Board has been requested to elect a representative and alternate to represent alumni on the steering committee.
  • Council, comprised of individuals drawn from a number of different sectors and representing different perspectives, retains decision-making authority about the process. This serves to protect the integrity of our governance structures and to ensure that different views can be considered before decisions are taken.
  • We have extended the deadline for nominations from the various constituencies until 15 January 2017.
  • The first meeting is scheduled for 26 January 2017.

Sincerely

Professor Francis Petersen
Acting Vice-Chancellor




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