Our University today…
Rhodes University, like all other public universities in our country, is in the throes of change. Much is happening in our space and all around us. Discussions are taking place at Council, Board of Governors, Senate, Institutional Planning Committee, Deans’ and Heads of Departments Fora and at various other platforms about change and transformation. I trust that those who attend these meetings will always share this information with their peers and colleagues.
Let me take this opportunity to compliment these interactions. Hereunder, I reflect on six matters namely: the state of our nation, the implementation of the recommendations of the Sexual Violence Task Team (SVTT), Transformation, review of the size and shape of our University, labour relations and the financial sustainability of the University.
The state of our nation
The current state of our nation is a cause for concern. The political and economic uncertainties, deep social and political divisions, societal fragmentation, widespread and debilitating poverty, heightened levels of racial polarisation and binarisms are all eroding the social fabric of our nation, adversely impacting on social cohesion and undermining the project of nation-building. Much of what we witness on a daily basis has created a sense of anxiety, cynicism and despondency. At times when one thinks that we have hit rock bottom and can sink no further, we just manage to sink deeper and deeper. Let us not lose sight of the fact that we have a great country with a great future ahead.
As we commented at this year’s graduation ceremonies:
“All our challenges notwithstanding, we should never allow apathy, despair, cynicism or despondency to take hold in our society. It is an inevitability of nature that even the darkest night has to give way to the light of a bright new day. This too shall pass!”
We further made the point that:
“Given all we have experienced in South African history, of all people we cannot afford to lose the hope that sustained us in the dark days of apartheid; we cannot afford not to imagine a better society and a better world than the one which we pray we inhabit temporarily.”
Hope, and hope alone, will not be sufficient for the realisation of the society of our dream. I invite all of us to make whatever positive contribution we can to lift our nation out of the quagmire in which it finds itself. In all that we do, we should never be indifferent to the plight of the poor and the marginalised in our society. They, more than most, deserve better. We have a nation to build!
- 1. Confronting the scourge of sexual, gender-based violence
The Team, which I personally chair, to implement the recommendations of the SVTT to strengthen a counter culture to rape and gender-based violence in our institution has met several times. I am pleased with the progress that we are making in this regard.
A number of the recommendations are already under implementation especially around education and enculturation. The Division of Student Affairs and the Student Representative Council working with the Gender Commission are behind the educational programme, which is currently being rolled out. I would like to encourage both students and staff to attend the planned sessions, which will be announced on various communication platforms in the near future.
We have categorised and prioritised all the 93 recommendations made by the SVTT and identified offices in the University to deal with each set. They fall roughly under the following three categories:
- Policy environment: this will require that we review, update and align all our policies with efforts to strengthen our stand against gender-based violence.
- Discipline and enforcement: this is about a comprehensive approach to justice in dealing with gender-based violence.
- Education and awareness initiatives: this is about sensitisation and awareness raising. It entails various education initiatives targeting both staff and students.
Issues of gender-based violence are critical in our society and in our University. I want us to complete our work in this regard in the shortest possible time. All entities assigned with any responsibility in this regard will report regularly on the progress and challenges in the continued work to strengthen a counter culture to gender-based violence.
- 2. Transformation
Council received a report at its last meeting this month indicating that preparations are progressing for our Transformation Summit scheduled for July. This is a unique moment for our University to reimagine its place, purpose and value in the context of challenges faced by our nation, continent and the whole of human kind.
I have witnessed what is happening on campus and the energy that everyone has put behind the project. I have also attended lively engagements with our alumni around the country.
I have hope that this process will bequeath to us an even better University that we can all be proud of. We should leave nothing to chance to achieve this outcome.
- 3. Size and shape of the University
This is a critical project through which we seek to reinvent our University and to shape a new future for our institution. It includes reconfiguring the operations of the University, identifying areas of strength, weakness and potential growth and a thorough review of the vision of our institution in Makana, in South Africa, in the continent and beyond. It requires that we undertake a dispassionate review of the academic project, which is the reason for our existence, as well as the support we require for the advancement of this intellectual project.
The latest development in the ongoing work in this regard was a weekend workshop with the Deans of all Faculties. A similar workshop with the administrative staff is being planned for the near future. We emerged from the workshop with a broad framework for engagement around this task. This, we will share with the University community at the earliest possible time.
We are also in the process of recruiting an Institutional Planner. This is a critical role which anchors everything we have to do – it is at the heart of our operations and a key cog in institutional performance.
- 4. Labour relations
I am pleased that after several engagements with organised labour we were able to reach an agreement on wage adjustments for 2017. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the leadership of both the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and our Negotiating Team for their matured stewardship of this difficult process. I also want to thank our wardening staff for their selfless service at a very difficult time. I also wish to convey my sincere appreciation to the rest of the University community for their patience, understanding and fore-bearance throughout the period of wage negotiations.
- 5. Financial sustainability
The financial situation of the University requires that we continue to build and deepen a culture of fiscal prudence and austerity to ensure that the University remains on a sustainable path. The balance between our income and expenditure remains untenable and unsustainable. Various initiatives are being undertaken to deal with this significant challenge. We will continue to rely on everyone’s participation in this regard.
In the interim, the following measures apply to mitigate financial risk:
- Optimisation of our resources, human and financial;
- Review of support operations with a view to reducing costs;
- An improved approach to identify and harness alternative sources of income;
- A partial moratorium on support staff vacancies;
- A moratorium on non-essential consultancy contracts;
- A partial moratorium on re-grading of support staff posts;
- Limitations on travel, accommodation and catering; and
- Cancellation of year-end functions.
I am very positive about the future of our University. While I appreciate the magnitude of these challenges, I am convinced that Rhodes is destined for even greater heights.
All challenges notwithstanding, we must ensure that:
- We continue to provide our students with a quality educational experience that is second to none;
- We maintain our commitment to excellence in teaching and learning, research and community engagement;
- We continue make Rhodes University a safe, welcoming, affirming and supportive environment for our students and staff to study, work and live;
- We build and sustain a strong, resilient and sustainable institution that is able to play its rightful role in the creation of a better society and a better world through knowledge creation, dissemination and application.
- 6. Conclusion
As we engage each other on the future of our University, it is important that we do so respectfully and within the prescripts of our Constitution. We must always defend the right to freedom of expression and the unfettered exchange of ideas. We must refrain from making sweeping, unhelpful and at times, hurtful generalisations. We must respect each other’s views. We should not call each other names, nor should we launch gratuitous attacks on each other. We should never try to delegitimise, trivialise or be dismissive of each other’s views or experiences.
We should use the power of rational and reasoned argument, logic and debate to forge common ground on the issues about which we hold different views. We must also be open-minded, and be willing to be persuaded to change our position on any mater based on the quality of the argument advanced.
In this regard, the following message from former United States President, Barrack Obama, on open-mindedness and embracing of differences is pertinent:
“If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire. Make them defend their positions. If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it. Debate it. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be scared to take somebody on. Don’t feel like you’ve got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at them if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic, reason and words. And by doing so, you’ll strengthen your own position, and you’ll hone your arguments. And maybe you’ll learn something and realise you don’t know everything. And you may have a new understanding not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe. Either way, you win. And more importantly, our democracy wins.”
Source: VC's Circular
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