An excellent academic, an astute teacher and an outstanding leader with salient characteristics – that’s how colleagues and friends described Professor Linda Ronnie, outgoing dean of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Commerce. Professor Ronnie stepped down in November 2020, and her tenure at the helm of the faculty ended officially on 30 June 2021.
But she won’t be lost to the university, as Ronnie will continue teaching at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) and will remain in an academic role in the School of Management Studies in the Faculty of Commerce.
To celebrate Ronnie’s indelible contribution to academia, UCT’s deanery, her colleagues, students and other members of the campus community, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (UCT vice-chancellor), Associate Professor Lis Lange (deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning) and other senior members of UCT’s leadership lekgotla gathered virtually to celebrate and honour Ronnie, and to bid her farewell. The event was held on Tuesday, 29 June, via Microsoft Teams.
“Linda has been an incredible, welcome presence in the leadership lekgotla.”
“Linda has been an incredible, welcome presence in the leadership lekgotla. She brought her wealth of institutional knowledge and experience to the job, and [during] her tenure, together with her leadership [team], the faculty achieved many milestones,” said Professor Phakeng.
In 2020 Ronnie became the first woman of colour to achieve the rank of full professor in the Faculty of Commerce. She was delighted by the achievement, but this was clouded by a reminder: transforming the professoriate would be a long journey.
Under her leadership, the faculty reached many other milestones. One of them was receiving the 2019 Vice-Chancellor’s Transformation Award, presented to the School of Management Studies.
“They [the school] were awarded for the work they do. Transforming the entire academic section of the school, the staff, the curriculum, the culture. Basically, they showed us that doing the work of transformation is not just the work of black people; it can be done by white people as well,” said Phakeng.
“All of this under Linda’s leadership – [her] enabling leadership, [her] supportive and visionary leadership.”
Ronnie has an enormous reputation in the academic sector, and is well known as a “top teacher”. To date she remains the only academic at the UCT GSB to be awarded UCT’s Distinguished Teacher Award, and in 2018 she was voted lecturer of the year by the full-time MBA class – which, Phakeng added, has a reputation for setting very high lecturer standards.
“I can go on and on about Linda’s achievements,” Phakeng said. “Linda, we will miss you. But we are glad that you are not leaving the university … we are glad that you will still be around, and we will continue to draw on your strengths.”
Leading with integrity
Associate Professor Lange said Ronnie carried out her duties with distinction, a dry sense of humour, sharp analysis and an unfaltering ability to name the elephant in the room. Identifying problems, diagnosing them adequately and drawing the team together to find appropriate solutions are attributes of a good leader, and skills that come naturally to Ronnie.
She has also tackled several important organisational, administrative and academic matters, managing to resolve them successfully. Lange said these resolutions will improve the faculty’s core function, help it to operate better, and in turn help to boost the university’s reputation.
“We live in a world in which a lack of honesty, and mediocrity are abound. It is for this reason that people with integrity are so important.”
“We live in a world in which a lack of honesty, and mediocrity are abound. It is for this reason that people with integrity are so important. Integrity, which is a sort of uncompromising adherence [and] commitment to a set of moral and ethical values. [It] is to me one of the most salient characteristics of Linda as a person and as a leader,” said Lange.
“Whether as a teacher in the classroom, as a dean in relation to all faculty staff and students, as a colleague to other deans, or as a member of the extended executive and the [leadership] lekgotla, Linda has kept her integrity. That she has managed to do [this] with a sense of humour, even when she [has] ruffled a feather or two, [is] really an important characteristic.”
In closing, Ronnie thanked Phakeng and Lange, as well as her fellow deans who had shared special anecdotes and farewell messages during the event.
She had special praise for her leadership team and colleagues in the faculty with whom she had worked closely during the past few years. Ronnie said she could not have asked for a better group of people with which to steer the ship.
“I think, suffice to say that if you don’t have a team that’s close-knit and functioning, you’re not really going anywhere. My team made me a better leader and a better colleague, and I can’t thank them enough,” she said.
Ronnie also thanked each of her fellow deans by name, and shared a few words on what she appreciates and will miss most about them. In addition, she also acknowledged UCT’s chief operating officer, Dr Reno Morar, and registrar, Royston Pillay, for their contribution during her tenure.
“Thank you everyone for your comments today; they really mean a lot to me.”
“Thank you everyone for your comments today; they really mean a lot to me,” Ronnie concluded.
Professor Edwin Muchapondwa has been appointed to serve as acting dean of Commerce in the interim, until a permanent appointment is made.
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