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Michael Smout, Principal and Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1991-2001Date Released: Tue, 23 May 2017 14:35 +0200
RU: TRANSFORMATION AND NAME CHANGE
- In 1995 name change proposals came forward for both Rhodes and Fort Hare. At RU there were wide ranging consultations with ‘stakeholders’ and in the end the Rhodes Council voted not to change the University’s name. Most of the arguments put forward then would probably still hold today. I presume the current RU investigation has access to the relevant documents. In the case of Fort Hare, the then President and Vice-President came out very strongly against a name change and no more was heard. The point was made that the words ‘Fort Hare’ conjure up an image of a proud University not that of a Fort named after a British army Colonel.
- Any institution such as Rhodes which has evolved over more than a century will have developed its own distinctive ‘culture’. It may well be that aspects of that culture are out of tune with the South Africa of 2017 and very difficult for some people to adapt to. Rhodes’ culture is reflected in its architecture, in the way things are done, in attitudes and transforming a culture is difficult and takes time. Further, in some disciplines, it may be necessary to reconsider what is taught and the stance of the persons presenting it. I would fully support changing those aspects of the culture at RU which are seen to be outdated or potentially offensive to students or staff.
- People should not think that changing the name of Rhodes will change its culture. It will be no more than a symbol of intent and will not satisfy those people who want to see institutional change. A name change will upset a lot of people and the negative effects might be considerable.
- Firstly, many alumni will object to a name change because of an emotional attachment to the University and I believe that it will make fund-raising more difficult. I am aware of bequests in favour of the University which are dependent on the name remaining as is.
- More importantly, within the context of higher education, ‘Rhodes’ is a respected brand name. Changing the name will be to the detriment of future graduates. Although the institution and the quality of its degrees will not change, there will be a perception of lowered quality and there is little that the University can do to prevent this. A name change will impact negatively on the ability of future graduates to find suitable employment. Employers, especially foreign employers, already question the value of some SA university qualifications and Rhodes should avoid any actions which might lead to negative perceptions of its degrees.
- Finally, Rhodes has always drawn the bulk of its students from outside the Eastern Cape and one has to ask what brings them to Grahamstown in the first place. One of the answers, without doubt, is a Rhodes degree. Changing the name might lead to a drop in the number and quality of applicants.
Michael Smout, Vice-Principal and Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1991-2001