Row over UCT professor's maths qualification

2017-10-07 21:18
UCT rector Max Price.

UCT rector Max Price. (Leánne Stander)

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Cape Town – University of Cape Town (UCT) rector Max Price on Saturday expressed outrage over a series of emails suggesting a mathematics professor, who was honoured by President Jacob Zuma, is not suitably qualified.

Mamokgethi Phakeng, the university's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation, is accused of forging her mathematics PhD qualification.

One email reads: "I believe she is not mathematically qualified at all... She has a 'PhD in education of mathematics'. It might justify investigating ...." 

In a letter to campus staff and students, Price said the authors of the emails have been identified as not being staff members. He did not clarify whether students are responsible for the malicious emails. 

Mischievous mails

"I am offended and saddened by this email thread. The email is mischievous - a quick internet search will show that she has an undergraduate major in pure mathematics," Price said. 

He said the emails spammed a large number of recipients via personally addressed emails, which creates the impression that the views being expressed are widely held.

"I have suggested to those who received the email that unless they support the authors’ views, they should distance themselves from the doubt expressed about Professor Phakeng’s qualifications and competence."

Price said he has spoken to the authors and requested that they issue a formal apology to Phakeng. 

According to UCT's website, Phakeng earned a BA in pure mathematics from the former University of Bophuthatswana in 1988. She obtained her BEd (1993), MEd (1996) and PhD (2002) in mathematics education from the University of the Witwatersrand.

On Twitter, Phakeng said she believes that these comments come from a minority grouping at the university. 

"The problem [I] guess is the power and influence they have," she said. 

Phakeng was awarded the Order of the Baobab (Silver) by President Jacob Zuma in 2016 for her excellent contribution in the field of Mathematics.

She served as national president of the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa between 2002–2006 and was the founding chairperson of the board of the South African Mathematics Foundation from 2004 to 2006.

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