[14 May] VC's message of appreciation

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Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University
Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University

Dear Colleague

Today is the 49th day of the nationwide lockdown. For many, this has been a very difficult time. Adjusting to the changed circumstances has taken its toll. Projections are that the virus will be with us for a considerable period of time. Thank you for your role in helping curb the transmission of the virus and, in the process, saving lives.

Let me, from the outset, express my heartfelt gratitude and deep appreciation to all staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in assisting with arrangements to migrate our teaching and learning delivery from face-to-face to remote and digital platforms. Our academics who had prepared their teaching and learning materials for face-to-face delivery had to convert and adapt them for online delivery and we have had to print these materials for those students who do not have laptops and those who cannot access the digital materials on RUConnected. Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic & Student Affairs and our Faculty Deans have had to spend many sleepless nights thinking through the details. Support and Administrative staff have come forward to assist in many ways to ensure a successful migration to remote/online teaching and learning, including with the configuration of 1 500 laptops for students, the preparation of printed materials for 1900 students, and the remarkable little army of volunteers who have worked with the Faculty Deans to sort, parcel, and label these packages for distribution. It has not been easy. In these challenging circumstances, we have to build the ship while navigating choppy waters. We are all in this together and it is in working together that we will be able to overcome the challenges thrust upon us by the global health crisis of our times.

Like other universities around the globe, we had to adopt this flexible modality of teaching and learning in order to ensure the continuity of the education of our students. All the challenges notwithstanding, the future of our students, on the one hand and, their safety and wellbeing, on the other, must be held in a delicate balance. Offering remote/online teaching and learning affords our students a structured focus and meaningful engagement with their studies and their future. We acknowledge that, given that our strength is in face-to-face teaching and learning, a migration to digital platforms is not an ideal arrangement for us. However, we hope our staff, students and parents can appreciate that the decisions that have been taken, and continue to be taken, are in the best interests of the future of our students.

I wish to assure you that the University remains committed to doing everything in its power to advance social justice and ensure that no student is disadvantaged by the unprecedented changes that have been thrust upon us by this invisible, deadly virus. We must ensure that all our students are able to complete the 2020 academic year. Those who, for one reason or another, are not able to engage immediately with remote/online teaching and learning will be assisted to catch up with the printed learning materials.

In her letter of 10 May 2020, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor; Academic & Student Affairs, provided a detailed progress update on the implementation of the remote/online teaching and learning delivery. 2 We are pleased with the progress made to date. Many of our students are engaging in the learning activities. The distribution of laptops and printed learning materials is underway.

Let me also pay tribute to our staff who are working productively from home. Working from home presents its own challenges and dynamics that demand a different set of skills and capabilities. Working on campus can give one a clean break between work and home. However, working at home can create a never-ending continuum of work for twenty-four-hours and seven-days-a-week. One can easily lose track of time, day and date. So, working from home requires one to adapt and adjust to a different space and a different way of working. This carries with it its own emotional and psychological challenges. Added to this is the challenge of trying to remain work productive while caring for small children at home, as some of our staff members are doing.

There are those of us who are working on campus providing essential services. The Campus Protection Services are ensuring the safety of our campus. Others go to campus to ensure that salaries are paid at the end of the month, that our IT services continue to work, that animals are fed, that HR matters are attended to, etc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive economic and social upheavals across the globe. We are as yet to quantify its financial impact on our University. We cannot underestimate the potential financial impact and repercussions of this crisis, combined with the sovereign ratings downgrade of South Africa’s economy to a sub-investment grade, on our University finances. Our CFO, Mr Kamlesh Riga, is leading a Rhodes University Task Team on Financial Sustainability of our University.

We have also established another task team under the leadership of our Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Innovation, Dr Peter Clayton, to develop a framework and criteria for a phased and structured return of our students to campus. While we do not as yet have a target date for the start of the return of our students, we need to start planning for this return. We must plan for a range of contingencies and all such challenges as may come our way. The terms of Reference of these two Task Teams will be communicated in due course.

Finally, I should like to express my sincere gratitude to one and all, for the many ways in which you contribute to ensuring that the intellectual endeavour of our University is sustained during this period of global and national disaster. Thank you for showing care and concern for our students’ wellbeing, their development and growth and academic progress. This crisis will eventually end. We do not know when. But it will end. Let us hold hands in solidarity with, and in support of, each other.

To all of you, Maz’enethole! Ukwanda kwaliwa ngumthakathi! Le ka moso!

Asante sana. Enkosi. Ke a leboga. Ngiyabonga. Tante grazie. Zikomo kwambiri. Ke a leboha. Ndo livhuwa. Tatenda. Ngiyathokoza. Muito obrigado. Daalụ nke ukwuu. Merci beaucoup. Большое спасибо. Baie dankie. Muchas gracias. Vielen Dank. 非常感谢你. Inkomu. Shukraan. Go raibh míle maith agat. Thank you very much.

Warmest wishes and, please, keep safe, well and strong.

Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University.