Dr Ruiters elected President of Rhodes University Convocation

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Recently elected President of Rhodes University Convocation, Dr Michele Ruiters.
Recently elected President of Rhodes University Convocation, Dr Michele Ruiters.

Rhodes University alumni have entrusted Dr Michele Ruiters with the role of President of Convocation. Dr Ruiters is a senior lecturer at Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), associated with the University of Pretoria. She teaches human and organisational behaviour courses, diversity, equality, and inclusion. She is also the lead faculty on Leading Women at GIBS, which provides courses to corporates and Masters in Business Administration on women and leadership. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism and a Masters in International Relations, both from Rhodes University. She takes over from Professor Peter Mtuze.

Dr Ruiters was born in Kokstad and moved to Cape Town at three years old, where her mother and grandmother raised her. Her interest in understanding diversity, equality and inclusion was fuelled by the apartheid system she experienced in Cape Town growing up. “I know what it feels like to be asked to leave restaurants or to travel in second and third class on the trains in Cape Town. This made me develop a justice framework, which means that sometimes I say things organisations do not want to hear,” she explained.

She said she was profoundly humbled and surprised by her appointment as the President of Rhodes University Convocation. Classmates she had met in her undergraduate studies at Rhodes University nominated her. “I had no expectations because I know Rhodes University has a high calibre of alumni. I am familiar with the University as a student and a lecturer, which should inform my role as President of Convocation. I still aspire to be the best I can be, and this means having a growth mindset. I live to learn and look forward to learning more through my role,” she said. 

The newly-elected President brings a broad experience of different contexts. She has attended and taught at four South African Universities (Rhodes University, University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria), taught internationally at the Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she received a PhD in Political Science. She has extensive experience in development work across the African continent and in the development finance sector. “My work and world have always been focused on inclusion and representation. I bring all these experiences to Convocation, including my focus on recognising the battles that women still face in our professional and personal lives. I think I’m the first black woman President of Convocation, and I don’t plan to let that go to waste,” she said.

Dr Ruiters acknowledged that Rhodes University has a long-standing, admirable relationship with its alumni but felt it needs to include more from the generation that attended in the 1980s and early 1990s. “We experienced the University very differently; therefore, it would be important for that generation to be included in the student body again as alumni,” she explained. She said she would ensure that the members elected to Council are representative of the full range of the Rhodes University community. “The Communications team does excellent work, but people are not choosing to be engaged in Convocation. I hope that can change during my tenure with the help of the Registrar’s Office and other units at Rhodes University,” she said.

As a person who works well collaboratively, she said she would like to continue that in her new role. “My role will only be as successful as the relationships I can build with alumni, the administration and governance bodies. I look forward to the next two years,” she concluded.

Dr Ruiters’ tenure will run until the meeting of the Convocation in 2023.