Rhodes chairs debate on the state of humanities

Last weekend deans of humanities from eight South African universities assembled at Rhodes University to discuss the present condition of their faculty. In a move to address ongoing questions about the demise of humanities programmes in the country, they established the South African Humanities Deans’ Association (SAHUDA). 

The formal alliance is a deliberate effort to create a more cohesive position on matters pertaining to the humanities, in order to engage government and civil society more effectively. President elect of the association is Rhodes’ own Dean of Humanities, Prof Fred Hendricks.

“This initial meeting was a long time coming,” explained Prof Hendricks, “Though there has been a flurry of electronic communication among deans around two major issues.” These two issues: the Academy of Science of South Africa’s (ASSAf) Consensus Report and the Charter for Humanities and Social Sciences, commissioned by South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education and Training; both of which bear significant weight and influence on government’s priority spending for higher education.

The association will hold a conference once a year, though the real fruits of their deliberation are hoped to be found in realms outside their caucus. “We are setting up regular meetings with the Minister and Director General of Higher Education and Training,” said Prof Hendricks, “I think this level of engagement is very important.”

Justifying the deans’ decision to create such a united front, Prof Hendricks said, “There was a need to articulate the collective voice of deans.” Not only does the SAHUDA intend to appeal to government, however, they hope to be on the forefront of humanities debates. “This is a body of scholars who are engaged in a discourse around discoveries and knowledge. [This association] ensures a space where rational discourse happens,” said Prof Hendricks.

Also elected to the council was Vice President, Rory Ryan of University of Johannesburg; Treasurer, Lucius Botes of University of the Free State; and Secretary, Velile Notshulwana of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Although the association is a collective effort, the election of Prof Hendricks represents a significant achievement for him and the faculty at Rhodes University. “I think it’s significant that the dean of the smallest resident university [in South Africa] should be elected as president,” said Hendricks, “It’s an honour to have been elected in this way, I regard it as an honour to be in a position to serve [my colleagues] as president.”

Story by Hailey Gaunt


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