16 March 2021: “National universities shutdown” - Rhodes University update

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Rhodes University.
Rhodes University.

Legal and disciplinary breaches by protesting students, including intimidation and abuse of staff coming to work, abuse of University property, threats targeted at students and parents visiting campus to drop-off students, have compelled Rhodes University to review with immediate effect the strategy to ensure safety and health on campus.

Protest Action

A number of legal and disciplinary breaches were reported today as the ‘national shutdown’ called by the South African Union of Students (SAUS) enters its second day. A handful of students continued with the blockading of access roads to the campus. Various incidents have been reported, including:

·       Acts of intimidation against fellow students.

·       Staff working on issuing study materials being turned away.

·       Intimidation of staff and threats of violence.

·       Racial abuse of staff.

·       Abuse of University property.

The incidents have also led to at least one Union cautioning its members about coming to work after a member was “surrounded and physically pushed” and ordered to leave campus. Although the University has made emergency arrangements regarding hygiene and student services at the residences, these are only temporary measures.  Messages from concerned parents and academic staff have been received about the unacceptable situation and the impact on students and staff on campus.

The University takes a dim view of the reported conduct and will act against any student who transgresses the Students Disciplinary Code and violate the rights of other students and staff. The University has an obligation to ensure the health and safety of students and staff on campus, including the continuation of teaching and learning and other operations of the institution. All reported cases will be followed up, and appropriate and decisive action will be taken.

Ours is a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law. No one person’s rights are more important than another’s. While the protesters have a right to protest, they do not have a right to infringe the rights of others, including the right of access to education, the right of human dignity and the right to freedom of movement.

The University urges the leaders of the protest to ensure that they, and the students that they lead, conduct themselves peacefully, ethically and within the bounds of the law. The rights of the protesters are understood, but so are the rights of those who are not part of the protest. The rights of all students, workers, parents and members of the public cannot be arbitrarily effaced by a few who impose their will on others. The University will not tolerate this conduct.

Registration of students

The University, on Friday, 12 March, announced the extension of the deadline for registration. All students are encouraged to finalise their registration by 26 March 2021. No late registration fee will be charged until this date. The efforts of the University to reach students who have been cleared for funding by NSFAS on Monday are failing because many of these students cannot be contacted as staff cannot gain access to their offices on campus.  These students may end up missing the opportunity to study at Rhodes University.

Academic activities

Online teaching and learning is continuing, and participation of students on our Learning Management System, RUConnected, has been impressive.  The planned face-to-face teaching sessions will continue with great caution, while academics are requested to make sound judgements of the situation to safeguard the safety of the students and their own. The University will attend to any disruptions in this regard. Deans and Heads of Department are urged to report any disruptions and/or threats for follow up as the safety and health of staff and students is a priority. 

A few First Time Entrance Students (FTENs) who are funded by NSFAS, who recently reported to the University, have not been able to receive laptops due to staff being denied access to their offices.  The right to access to education of these students has been disregarded.  This is unacceptable.

The University has continuously engaged with the Students Representative Council (SRC) and has addressed their demands. We shall continue to work with the SRC as the need arises to facilitate a speedy and amicable resolution of challenges.

 


Please help us to raise funds so that we can give all our students a chance to access online teaching and learning. Covid-19 has disrupted our students' education.  Don't let the digital divide put their future at risk. Visit www.ru.ac.za/rucoronavirusgateway to donate