It is with great sadness that we have heard of the death, on Friday 24 November, of a former staff member, Michael John (Mike) Oelschig.
Mike Oelschig took up a position as a senior lecturer in the Rhodes University Law Faculty in mid-1979, after a career as a judge’s clerk, magistrate, and lecturer in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Mike’s primary areas of interest and expertise were Criminal Procedure and the Law of Evidence, where he was able to give his students the benefit of his vast professional expertise in his teaching of these subjects.
As a teacher, Mike was renowned for employing the Socratic method which involved asking his students questions on the readings they had been assigned in order to stimulate their thinking. Such was the rigour of this method (which Mike also used as a means of taking class attendance) that only the extraordinarily foolhardy would dare to come to class without adequate preparation.
Driven by the profound belief that it was the Law that made the world a fair place, Mike’s teaching had a profound impact on his students. There is almost no Faculty alumnus who does not to this day remember the leading authorities in Mike’s subjects, when their memory of much they were taught in other areas has long since faded. His graduates who went into legal practice would in later years praise how well he had prepared them for success in litigation.
Such are the marks of a memorable teacher.
Mike also served the Law Faculty as its Deputy Dean for a number of three-year terms, and was a Proctor from the commencement of his employment until his retirement at the end of 2002.
To the wider university community, Mike was most well-known for his role in the wardening system. His first appointment was in Thomas Pringle House from late 1979 to 1984. In 1985 he moved to Goldfields House when Thomas Pringle became a female residence. In 1981, he also assumed the position of hall warden of Kimberley Hall. He served as both Goldfields house warden and Kimberley hall warden until his retirement – an exceptional period of service. In addition, for much of this period he held the position of Dean of Wardens, championing the interests of the residence system right up to the Senate.
Mike believed fundamentally that what made Rhodes University special, and gave it a market edge, was that its residence system was well-appointed, safe, caring, and a place parents could trust when sending their children away from home to study. His championing of the young men in his care, his ‘guys’, was such that his family were regaled with tales of every single one of their achievements.
At Mike’s farewell, the then Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Woods, remarked that he appreciated enormously how, as Dean of Wardens, Mike had played such a crusading role in the quest to eliminate all forms of initiation and humiliating ritual that had pervaded the system until the 1980s. Mike was also noted for his work on the Kimberley Hall Constitution, the quality of which is such that it has served as a guide for the Constitutions of almost all other halls.
During Mike’s early years at Rhodes, he involved himself fully in the affairs of the Rhodes University Rugby Club, acting occasionally as a coach and, more memorably, as a long-serving referee. Until 1986 he was a chain-smoker, but a heart-related incident forced him, after stern medical advice, to quit overnight. From that Damascene day forward, he made it his mission to do whatever was possible to convince students of the ills of smoking, to the extent that student smokers who saw him coming would either flee, or hurriedly put out their cigarette for fear of rebuke!
Mike gave the University unstinting, loyal service for the 23 years he was in its employ. He was a truly memorable character in a time when such personalities are increasingly rare.
Our thoughts go to his wife Beatrice, his family, and his friends.
Dr Chrissie Boughey
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic & Student Affairs
Last Modified: Fri, 01 Dec 2017 16:01:03 SAST