Jansen's lecture met with acrimony in KZN

2016-05-21 13:42
UFS rector Jonathan Jansen (Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

UFS rector Jonathan Jansen (Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

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Durban - University of the Free State (UFS) vice chancellor, Professor Jonathan Jansen, delivered the keynote address at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's 10th Annual Strini Moodley Memorial Lecture at the university's Westville Campus on Friday.

The lecture, which celebrates the Black Consciousness Movement pioneer's life, was titled The Future of Higher Education in South Africa: Addressing racism, inequality and relevance and was greeted with acrimony by some audience members.

"I am interviewing 10 vice chancellors because I want to understand what it is like to be in that particular task," Jansen said.

"I have interviewed so far Max Price for two hours, Adam Habib and North West Vice Chancellor Dan Kgwadi and I thought I had problems until I interviewed those candidates."

Jansen recently announced that he would be stepping down from his position at UFS to take up an invitation as a Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Behavioural Sciences at the US’s Stanford University in September 2016.

In the lecture, he said he did not know if any of the candidate found the job particularly attractive considering the current climate in higher education and because running a university had become increasingly difficult in recent times.

Jansen said post-1994 there was a need to think deeply and deliberately about the state of the country, education, particularly higher education.

He said the creative disruptions brought about the demands for access (#FeesMustFall) and the struggle against alienation (#RhodesMustFall) were not only necessary but long overdue.

He said he noted the presidential national of inquiry into the feasibility of free higher education.

"But it boggles the mind how a team of judges can possibly preside or pronounce over complex operations of a modern university. It is quite frankly disrespectful of the education enterprise."

He said poor students had the right and privilege to higher education.

"Clearly government needs to fundamentally restructure the national budget and the economy but I doubt very much there is an appetite for such in the national government given the state of the economy and the demands."

He said this meant that South Africa would continue in the current turbulence through bailouts under pressure and various public-private solutions.

"The lack of courage or capacity on the part of government and the lack compromise on the part of students could keep universities in a political tailspin for a long time to come and lead to a confrontation which could have tragic consequences for the country."

He said that he prayed that this did not happen and that it needed extraordinary political skills to head off such a calamity.

Transformation

He said what university leaders thought was enough in terms of dealing with transformation was no longer enough to address the urgent concerns brought by students.

"What started off in a few universities quickly spread to other universities... None of this amused the historically black universities who argues that these protests were nothing new to them...

"They were to a certain degree irritated that national attention was given to student protests because they came from historically white universities but were largely ignored when the annual cycle of protests proceeded with little attention from government and other universities."

Jansen  said the early disruptions were critically important for bringing attention systemic concerns that remained unresolved.

Government had no choice to move from the original six percent fee increase to a zero percent increase.

He applauded the students for pushing government to addressing systemic issues facing higher education funding, however he was concerned about the costs of the protests.

"There also obviously the financial costs, the burning down of university buildings means that these buildings must be replaced and funds must be rerouted from somewhere else."

He identified three factors which he believed had lowered the status of universities in Africa: financial duress, state interference and chronic instability.

When the floor was opened to questions, former EFF member Andile Mngxitama told Jansen that he was happy he was leaving because he had done little to transform higher education in South Africa.  

"How can you get a man who represents everything that is wrong about his project of democracy? A man who brutalises students, defends white supremacy, allows Afrikanerdom under his guard his at the university. This is the man that you bring to address us about Strini Moodley's legacy?" he asked.

"I am very happy that you are going, I am even happier that students in this country are burning down universities because that is what decolonisation is about."

A UKZN student who did not identify himself said, "When you arrive at the institutions you can see and smell the racism but the person at the helm has never done anything about it."

The student said Jansen had failed to take action against white students who allegedly kicked and assaulted black students during a rugby game at the university.

"There is no transformation in universities. You come here and you are taught this European crap and you must go and be a cabbage in a market stall…

"I even wonder why we must sit in university when you can go out there and get skilled. Don't think that you have added any value to transforming universities here in South Africa." 

Jansen did not respond to their comments.

NOTE: In an earlier report it was incorrectly stated that University of Witwatersrand Vice Chancellor Adam Habib and University of Cape Town Vice Chancellor Max Price were among those vying for Jansen's position at the University of Free State. We apologise for the error - News24

Read more on:    max price  |  jonathan jansen  |  adam habib  |  bloemfontein  |  education

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