Rhodes University recently bade farewell to one of its longest-serving staff members, outgoing Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation Professor Peter Clayton.
A special event was held in his honour at Steve Biko Dining Hall on 30 November, with special guests including Chancellor Justice Lex Mpati, Vice-Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs Professor ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, Registrar Professor Adéle Moodly, his wife Louisa and outgoing SRC President Botlhale Modisaotsile.
Professor Clayton's association with Rhodes University goes back to 1976 when he enrolled as an undergraduate BSc student. He joined the University's staff some years later, in 1982, as a lecturer in Computer Science and has served the University for the past 40 years. His role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation spanned 15 years.
Prof Clayton's leadership of the research portfolio has contributed to Rhodes University's rise to becoming one of the most productive research-intensive universities in the sector.
Before he was appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2008, the Professor served as an academic in the University's Computer Science Department. During that time, he was awarded the National Science and Technology Forum's Award for S&T capacity building, notably for establishing the network of Telkom Centres of Excellence across several universities in the sector. He was also awarded the Rhodes Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Awards for Research and for Teaching.
During his four decades-long tenure, Professor Clayton worked under four different Vice-Chancellors.
Vice-Chancellor Mabizela, who spoke on behalf of the Senior Leadership Team, thanked Prof Clayton for his many years of service. "On behalf of the Council and the entire Rhodes University, I wish to offer our profound gratitude and sincere appreciation for your immense contribution to our university. Under your leadership, the University has achieved much and is now well poised to take its next steps of building on the legacy of achievement and success that you have laid. Farewell, dear friend,” said Professor Mabizela. Professor Monnapula-Mapesela, who has been working closely with Prof Clayton since her appointment in 2019, said: "We will cherish the time we had together; we will cherish the tough times and the not-so-tough times. Farewell, Professor Clayton. Farewell, Peter. Our leadership will be poorer without you."
Dean of Commerce Professor Dave Sewry, who started his own journey at Rhodes University at the same time as Prof Clayton, spoke on behalf of the Senate. "Senate, and indeed the entire Rhodes University, bids farewell to Prof Clayton at the end of the year. His contribution has been manifest, and we are deeply grateful that he elected to spend his intellectual energy at our institution. He will no longer be here in body, but his thoughts, ideas, encouragement, policies and practices will live on for many years. Go well, Peter."
Prof Moodly, who first met Prof Clayton when he was part of the panel that interviewed her for the position of Registrar, said: "This is both a happy and sad occasion. Happy for the Clayton family to have you all to themselves, Peter, and sad for our institution for having to bid you farewell after gracing Rhodes University with four decades of your life. What a privilege and honour for our institution. Rhodes University has been truly blessed. We are bidding farewell to a great giant of Rhodes University."
Dean of Humanities, Professor Enocent Msindo, spoke on behalf of the Deanery. He said: "We would like to add our voice of gratitude, as Deans, to such a well-respected research leader as yourself. We acknowledge your contribution to transforming Rhodes University into the research-intensive university it is today. You have offered countless support to emerging scholars over the years. We will forever learn from you – and we will miss you."
Outgoing SRC President Modisaotsile spoke on behalf of the student council: "When we first heard of your leaving, we were in disbelief. You have always guided us and helped us solve problems with your calm presence. Thank you for serving the students."
He added, "I have no words in either English or Setswana to express just how truly you will be missed."
After the attendees shared a toast to the guest of honour, Prof Clayton got his chance to address them and share some sentiments. "As you all know, peer review is everything – and you are my peers. So everything that was said tonight has touched me deeply."
Prof Clayton expressed that he has absolutely loved his academic career. "I have loved the wonderful and almost romantic mix of idealism and pragmatism that working in this university represents – that you can change the course of people's lives here and that your job is, in fact, to do just that. I have found that very compelling,” he said.
But the most challenging part about leaving the University, he said, will be the people. "There are new things I look forward to – a more balanced lifestyle, more family time, and so on – and there are a few things about my job that I will not miss. However, I will grieve for the kinds of colleagues I have been privileged to have at Rhodes University. Many of them are so remarkably talented that they have made it easy for me to look good as a DVC of Research."