Mindful of the past two weeks of volatility on campus, I and the University of Cape Town executive want to acknowledge the tremendous pressures on you − and on our staff − as you work towards completing the 2017 academic programme and prepare for the end-of-year exams.
I want to commend you for your perseverance despite the very imperfect situation on campus and your commitment and hard graft in what has been a very tight academic year, after the late start in March this year.
I fully appreciate how stressful it is facing not only the disruptive situation on campus, seeing fellow students distressed or facing difficult personal matters, but also the uncertainty of how smoothly the exams will proceed. I want to assure you that we have plans in place to secure the exam venues from disruption should this be necessary. We hope, of course, that the threats to shut down the university and the exams will be withdrawn and we continue to engage with the protesters to resolve the conflict.
I am pleased to have received from the Deans on Friday afternoon a collective view that most of the undergraduate and postgraduate learning activities, including didactic teaching, tests, assignments, laboratory practicals, tutorials and other academic work, have continued, whether in face-to-face classes or via online or other modes of delivery. There is a sense that despite the disruption and interference by some protesters, we are managing to conclude this term’s academic programme with integrity. As the Senior Leadership Group we are resolved to completing the last week of academic work in a similar manner. We know this is what the overwhelming majority of students and academics want too. However, there may be more disruptions and hence course convenors have the discretion to make the decision about how classes, tests, exams and other work continues. Because the situation on the ground might shift unexpectedly, it makes sense that the decisions rest with the course convenor and that there is flexibility.
The incidents of unlawful action that we have seen must be condemned by all. Unlawful activity undermines the good causes many protesters are trying to highlight. Slashing vehicle tyres, intimidation, throwing bricks, vandalism, spoiling with excrement and trash, are acts that are reprehensible, undemocratic and unlawful. We are appealing to student leaders, protesters and non-protesters to distance themselves from this behaviour and not to condone it.
Students should be wary of being provoked or enticed into unlawful protests, including breaches of the interdict. This furthers no cause and can lead to arrest and a criminal record. There is no question that the context we face currently impacts many on our campus deeply. People have different levels of tolerance, triggers or thresholds for trauma and while many may be able to cope, it is clear that others might struggle.
For those who are experiencing high levels of stress, or are concerned about a friend who is not coping emotionally, there is assistance available. Students should note that the SADAG Student Careline offers 24/7 telephonic counselling by professional psychologists, which includes crisis counselling for depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties, including assisting with referrals to health facilities, where indicated. Students can access the service by calling 0800 24 25 26 free from a Telkom line or sending an SMS to 31393 for a callback.
We are also putting in place additional medical support to deal with health incidents on the ground (including a broadening of our contract with ER24 for emergency medical services). We are also broadening our services for trauma and debriefing counselling (for all students), as well as providing clinical nurse professionals who will work with volunteers to assist with minor injuries that arise from volatile situations, and this service will be coordinated by a medical clinician.
We are attempting to prevent and minimise disruptions – and to prevent escalation by excessive show of force. Images of students being arrested, in particular the female student who appeared to have fainted, are deeply disturbing and distressing for everyone. We are in constant engagement with the Campus Protection Officers, private security officers and the South African Police Services to ensure any incidents on campus are managed with restraint, with minimal force and wisdom. Where we think they transgress we take it up at the highest level. At the same time, as I mentioned above, students must play their part in ensuring they do not act unlawfully, provocatively, contribute to escalating issues or ignore instructions from officers.
I encourage you to visit the updates page on the UCT website to stay abreast of any developments on campus, whether these be changes to Jammie Shuttle programmes, library times, catering services in residences or any other operations on campus.
On behalf of the UCT Executive and community, we wish you the very best for the rest of the term and the upcoming exams.
Dr Max Price
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