In a public debate on Tuesday this week, a panel of academics discussed the proposed new Academic Freedom Declaration for Rhodes University.
The panel consisted of Professor Pierre de Vos, Deputy Dean of Public Law at the University of Cape Town and author of the popular blog Constitutionally Speaking; Professor Christopher McQuaid from the Rhodes Department of Zoology and Entomology and Professor Pedro Tabensky, director of the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics and Head of the Rhodes Department of Philosophy. The panel was chaired by Professor Fred Hendricks, Dean of Humanities at Rhodes.
Dr Vashna Jagernath from the Rhodes Department of History was also supposed to be on the panel but was unfortunately sick and could not make the debate.
The new Academic Freedom Declaration is largely based on the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility and has already been through several drafts. See below for a full text of the proposed Declaration.
Tabensky said that he was glad for the new Declaration because the previous version was "rooted in an apartheid context" and risked "perpetuating the status quo".
McQuaid presented several objections to the current incarnation of the Declaration including the style of the document. "I think it should be condensed. I think we should go the route of the American Declaration of Independence," said McQuaid.
His biggest objection was that the Declaration made serious ideological claims about what academic responsibility was: "In the end, who decides what academic responsibility? Should the government have an oversight committee?"
de Vos, on the other hand, questioned the need for the Declaration at all: "The Constitution guarantees academic freedom to everybody. The Declaration seems to me like a throwback to the apatheid era when there was no protection."
When the debate was opened to the floor, there were a considerable number of points and questions, most of which fell in line with de Vos's or McQuaid's objections.
Professor M. Roy Jobson from the Department of Pharmacy, for example, questioned the production of academic research: "If an academic steals another academic's work, it's called plagiarism. But if an academic steals indigenous knowledge, it's called research."
Caption: The panel at the Academic Freedom Declaration Debate (from left to right): Professor Fred Hendricks, Professor Pierre de Vos, Professor Pedro Tabensky and Professor Christopher McQuaid.
Picture: Michelle Morgan
By Stuart Thembisile Lewis