UCT’s executive selection process is rigorous and thorough

28 February 2018 | From the VC’s Desk

Dear students and colleagues

I write in response to a statement by the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) that is both ill-informed and incorrect. The BAC claims that a candidate for the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning was appointed “who does not meet our equity requirements nor key criteria as advertised for the position”. In a radio interview earlier this week, a BAC representative claimed that Senate supported the black candidate with a two-thirds majority but Council refused to appoint her. The BAC is claiming that the fact that the selection committee and Council did not offer the position to one of the black candidates demonstrates that “racism is alive and operates at the highest levels of the institution”.

Thus, aside from the incorrect facts, this is an attack on the selection committee, the Council, the selection processes and the successful candidate, Associate Professor Lis Lange. As a result I feel I have to respond in some detail and on each of the accusations.

Here are the facts of this matter:

Firstly, Senate did not at any point discuss or vote upon any candidates other than the candidate put forward by the selection committee, Associate Professor Lange. There was no vote on, let alone two-thirds support for, any other candidate.

Secondly, the University of Cape Town (UCT) follows an especially rigorous process in the selection of candidates to senior leadership posts within the institution. The selection of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning at UCT is a case in point. Fairness, rigour, transparency and transformation are largely guaranteed by the composition of the selection committee, which represents many stakeholders with different perspectives.

The selection committee was fairly constituted and represented a strong balance of university members, including:

  • three Council members including the Chair of Council, who chaired the committee
  • two deans
  • five members of academic staff (three of them members of Senate)
  • three members of the Students’ Representative Council
  • two employment equity representatives
  • two members of professional and support services staff
  • two executive directors
  • the Vice-Chancellor and a deputy vice-chancellor

Of the 21 members of the selection committee, nine (43%) members were female and 11 (52%) were black. The chair was an African South African.

It is worth reminding ourselves that a selection committee has access to confidential referees’ reports, and an in-depth interview as well as the confidential feedback from the audiences that listened to the candidates’ presentations. None of this is available to Senate, the public or the BAC.

Thirdly, on the question of whether Associate Professor Lange and any others met the criteria: in making its decision, the selection committee agreed that only one candidate – namely, Associate Professor Lange – met sufficient criteria to be appointed. For clarification, below I quote the published criteria, and those who review Associate Professor Lange’s CV will immediately see that she meets the vast majority, if not all, of the criteria.

“The criteria for selection of a successful application would generally require a doctoral degree and the ideal candidate would fulfil most of the following criteria:

  • experience in a senior leadership role in an academic institution
  • an established academic track record
  • a demonstrable track record managing a complex portfolio, or running a unit of reasonable size
  • a successful record of leadership and teamwork
  • experience in strategic thinking and operationalising such thinking into plans and projects
  • understanding of the challenges in the higher education arena in South Africa
  • understanding of the operations and affairs of a university environment
  • experience in areas of teaching and learning, innovative course and programme design, academic development and support
  • familiarity with current trends in curriculum development, including but not limited to issues such as coloniality and intersectionality related discourses
  • experience with digital scholarly resources, online learning and technology
  • experience in addressing manifestations of inequality within higher education institutions and a deep understanding of other dimensions of inequality and discrimination, including race, gender, sexuality, disability.”

Note that there is no specified requirement that the applicant should be eligible for a full professorship at UCT. So the BAC claim that for this reason she did not meet the criteria is false. In fact Associate Professor Lange met all the criteria.

Fourthly, on the question of Senate support: The committee’s choice of appointee was presented to Senate on 24 November 2017. After debate, Senate members took a vote and the majority agreed with the committee’s recommendation. However, Senate’s rules call for a two-thirds majority on such a decision and this was not achieved, as 38% voted against the proposal and 11% abstained.

In such a situation the procedure requires that the views of Senate – both of the majority in favour of the candidate and the minority against – be presented to the selection committee. This was duly done. On the specific question of transformation – an issue raised by dissenters in Senate – the selection committee was satisfied that Associate Professor Lange’s longstanding involvement with, and leadership experience in, the area of transformation in higher education was a key strength. One of her referees, a former (black) vice-chancellor, had written, “If I may be so bold to say, at an institution that needs to think and re-think numerous issues related to equity, quality and social justice, I am hard-pressed to think of a better candidate to take forward initiatives in those areas.”

Having considered the views from Senate, the selection committee decided to reaffirm its original decision that Associate Professor Lange would make an excellent Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning. The selection committee concluded that the doubts raised by some Senate members could be answered, and that if appointed, Associate Professor Lange would have sufficient confidence from Senate members for her to function as a deputy vice-chancellor, and therefore recommended her appointment to Council.

Finally, I trust it will be clear from the above that the allegation of racism, justified by the claim that the selection committee and Council supported an unqualified white woman against a qualified black South African candidate, is false and insulting to both the bodies. The Council overwhelmingly supported the decision.

It is disappointing that a public, misleading statement has been made in an attempt to delegitimise an entirely legitimate appointment, behind the anonymous banner of the BAC. Associate Professor Lange is a distinguished and leading figure in higher education circles in South Africa, and deserves recognition and support for her achievements. We are delighted that she accepted the Council’s offer of appointment.


Dr Max Price

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