In remembrance: Professor Suellen Shay

16 April 2021

Dear colleagues and students

We are deeply saddened to convey the news of the passing of our colleague Professor Suellen Shay (59) on Tuesday, 13 April 2021, after being diagnosed with cancer a number of years ago.

Professor Shay’s service to the University of Cape Town (UCT) spanned three decades, having joined UCT in January 1989 as professor of higher education in the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). Her career in CHED covered a range of development work, including language and curriculum development, and staff and institutional development.

She later served as dean of CHED from 2014 to 2018, during the watershed time of the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements in South African higher education. She demonstrated excellent and strong leadership before, during and after those periods, with a focus on student access and equity, and the need for transformation of curricula historically dominated by colonial and Global North systems of knowledge-making and reproduction. While ensuring that colleagues were given a voice in addressing these challenges, she was a fierce champion of talented students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, doing all she could to ensure their equal participation in higher education.

Colleagues talk about her moral, ethical and humane strength of leadership; her willingness to support and develop young and established colleagues; and her ability to provide penetrating analytical insights and interpretive commentary on the complex challenges facing higher education.

Professor Shay served as editor and on the editorial boards of several prestigious, high-impact higher education journals and regularly produced publications in her specialist areas, to critical acclaim. Together with her colleagues, she led the establishment at UCT of numerous taught programmes and PhD studies in the higher education field, and she co-launched a programme of staff development for academics new to higher education teaching, research and leadership. Another notable contribution was co-founding and coordinating the UCT Writing Centre, which made the university a more inclusive space and continues to serve students and academics.

In addition to her considerable scholarly and professional achievements, she was also an excellent mentor, a beloved colleague and a friend to many at UCT and beyond. She cared deeply for the individuals and groups with whom she interacted. Her colleagues describe her as a caring and committed person whose presence in the faculty will be sorely missed, but whose leadership and legacy will be remembered with appreciation and gratitude by future generations in higher education and society. Throughout her illness she encouraged colleagues and friends to light a candle and her message that there are so many totally invisible ways in which we unleash life giving energy into the world without even knowing will remain with all those whose lives she touched.

Professor Shay is survived by her husband, Donald; her daughters, Emily, Danielle and Charissa; and her mother, Carolyn.

Her funeral service will take place at the Rondebosch United Church, Belmont Road, Rondebosch on Saturday, 17 April at 15:00 SAST. There will be three venues for visitors, with live-stream video and audio links to the hall and garden. A recording of the service will be made available after the event. The funeral service will take place under the current pandemic restrictions and COVID protocols will be in place. Physical space is limited and colleagues and friends are urged to watch the livestream event rather than attend in-person. This will allow close friends and family to be at the venue under socially distanced conditions. A recording of the service will be available in due course. The family thanks you sincerely for your understanding.

The university is in contact with the Shay family and has reached out to offer support during this time of grief.

We convey our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and all who knew Professor Shay.


The UCT Executive

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