Response to VC’s recent communication about DVC smear email

20 October 2017 | Open letter William Daniels.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual authors in their private capacity; they do not represent or reflect the views, opinions or policies of the University of Cape Town or the Communication and Marketing Department.

Dear Dr Price,

As you know, the unjustified aspersions cast on Professor Phakeng’s qualifications were written by a single person who was a late addition to an ad hoc cc list created by Professor Crowe to share views on a completely separate and legitimate issue, namely the association of the university’s good name with the pseudoscientific theories of one Chandra Raju.

You could have quite rightly admonished the author of this calumny directly, and defended Professor Phakeng’s reputation publicly, without involving the innocent recipients of the email. The mere receipt of this off-topic message did not imply agreement with its contents and certainly entailed no ethical obligation to make any particular public gesture.

However, in your recent communications, you chose to implicate the innocent recipients of the email by suggesting that, “unless they support the authors’ [sic] views” (there was but one author), you expected them to take specific actions: “condemn these comments”, “distance themselves”, “indicate that they will refuse to collude”, and “[ask] to be removed from the list”. You did not appear to consider that one might wish simply to continue to discuss matters of importance to UCT, rather than this diversion, which was not taken up by anyone else.

Thus, you publicly implied that, unless they proclaim their innocence, the recipients could properly be assumed to share in the guilt of the offender. By doing this, you quite predictably set off a witch hunt for the names of those involved. I believe this was reckless and irresponsible of you.

You must be acquainted with the history of McCarthyism in the United States, and you must understand the injustice of guilt by association, the presumption of guilt, and of requirements for loyalty oaths or public declarations of innocence. You must know the chilling effect such tactics have on intellectual freedom.

Now that the names have supposedly been released and threats have been made, I believe you owe the innocent recipients of the offending email an apology and a public defense.

William Daniels

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