Hundreds of staff thronged Memorial Hall to say farewell to Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price, whose 10-year term of office ends on 30 June. In turn, he thanked them for their resilience and support during some challenging times, when they had “kept the show on the road”.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng will take the helm as Vice-Chancellor from 1 July. Referring to the changeover, Price said it would be a smooth transition. Phakeng has been with UCT as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation for two years, has a thorough understanding of the university’s operations and will “hit the ground running”, he said.
Professor Alison Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment and former UCT Orator, delivered a message of thanks on behalf of the staff.
Lewis referred to Deborah Bell’s drawing of a chimera in Price’s office at the Bremner building and wondered what Price’s composite animal, his own special chimera, might be.
“Well, definitely we need the body of a buffalo, since being a vice-chancellor involved being quite stubborn and having a rather thick skin. Since he is very clever and listens very carefully and always has far too many ideas, perhaps the head of a bat-eared fox, and, to represent something perpetually busy and occupied – moving rapidly and efficiently from one job to another – the wings of a Southern Double-collared Sunbird. And at the core, an open and powerful heart – maybe the heart of an African wild dog, since everything the VC does is with a deep love and commitment.”
Quoting former registrar Hugh Amoore, who said “UCT always gets the VC that it needs”, Lewis added, “I think that UCT, over the past 10 years, has been extremely fortunate to have had a wise, considerate, consistent leader to guide us through these turbulent times.”
In his address, Price said that he was overwhelmed by the staff’s response.
“It’s a bittersweet occasion for me. People I meet in the corridors say, ‘You must be so relieved to be retiring.’ There is some truth in that; the past three years in particular have been stressful, as it has been for all of us … but it’s also been a wonderful, stimulating, fulfilling and rewarding experience.”
“It’s also been a wonderful, stimulating, fulfilling and rewarding experience.”
He said that UCT had become part of his life and leaving would be like losing a limb.
“It’s like changing your identity, and for me it’s certainly tinged with a lot of sadness because I feel so committed to the institution and its success, and I look back with pride on what we’ve done this past decade.”
Price added, “I want to pay tribute to all of you, and the senior leadership team, the Senior Leadership Group, the deans who have been there with me, in the trenches, innovating, managing crises in a difficult time and celebrating the good times … for all of you, these have been three tough years. I thank you for your resilience, for keeping the show on the road.”
One of the highlights of the past three years had been the insourcing of some 1 300 contract employees in 2016, Price said.
“It’s such a pleasure to be able to celebrate this day with you and to know that you are part of the family that is UCT and part of this team that is making this a great university.”
Staff made full use of the opportunity for a farewell selfie with Dr Max Price.
‘Go and relax’
Among the rolling tributes featured on screen in the Memorial Hall were personal messages from students, former student leaders, staff, and vice-chancellors from other South African and other African universities, as well as from key players in the higher education sector.
They thanked Price for his steady, inclusive and sensitive leadership, notably after 2015 – a period complicated by funding changes in the higher education sector, complex dynamics in student leadership and the student protests that had ignited across the country – and abroad – under the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall banners.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, Dr Adam Habib, said that he would miss their midnight chats [during the protests]. “We did not always agree … but I knew you always acted on your convictions.”
UCT Libraries’ Lena Nyahodza’s message concluded, “I wish him to go and relax!”
Alumnus Andrew Hoole said that he hoped Price would enjoy a time of rest, “but hope [you] won’t sit on your hands”.
Book in the pipeline?
Price told the gathering that, in fact, he hoped to write a book during his year’s sabbatical in London (“Between visiting art galleries and catching up on series!”), where his wife, sociologist Professor Deborah Posel, has a visiting professorship at University College London. Thereafter they will return to Cape Town.
“If any of you have interesting work for me, let me know. I’ll be looking around,” he quipped.
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