SA professors need a new complexion

2014-08-03 15:00

Twenty years into democracy, South Africa’s university campuses are changed spaces.

Take your seat in a lecture hall, join a queue in a cafeteria or explore a residence and you’re likely to meet young people from across the racial spectrum.

But what of the academics tasked with teaching and growing these young students? How much have their faces changed in the past 20 years?

Not much, according to figures City Press has obtained from the department of higher education.

While black South Africans may be joining the ranks of undergraduates more than ever before, they are far more scarce at postgraduate level?–?and it’s alarmingly rare to find them working as junior and senior lecturers.

The picture is even worse at the top of the academic food chain.

Just 8% of our university professors are black South Africans and at several universities, more than 90% of professors are white.

This means that we are losing fine minds between undergraduate studies and the upper echelons of academic achievement?–?and that is a crisis.

Black professors talk about a system that’s stacked against them. Although all agreed that individual scholarship and hard work was key to success, they decried a selection system that seems unfairly weighted towards less qualified and published white academics.

Some students sneer at the sight of a black professor and fellow academics are no better.

We need black professors?–?not to tick equity boxes or present a harmonious, rainbow-hued image to the world, but because a diversity of voices, experiences and cultures is crucial to building students into the kind of change makers South Africa needs in all its spaces.

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