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Homophobic Attacks at a University – Is this higher education?

02 November 2012, 13:16

I was shocked and dismayed when I heard the news of a homophobic attack at the University of the Western Cape, in Bellville, Cape Town, on Wednesday the 31st of October. I am absolutely horrified and disgusted that such an incident took place, along with no intervention from University Security until the victims suffered serious injuries. The fact that the security guard(s) chose not to intervene and stop this brutal homophobic attack merely adds insult to injury. Such a disgraceful incident at a young and upcoming internationally recognised university such as UWC is really disturbing, not too mention extremely embarrassing.

A university such as UWC should not have a homophobic stigma attached to it. Yet, I fear, we may be in for worse unless immediate action is taken to address the current situation. In all fairness, one reported incident of homophobia is not much, but how many incidents go unreported? Gayla-UWC activist Glenton Matthyse's comments that “he had had enough of homophobic and 'transphobic' behaviour on campus” implies that incidents of homophobia at UWC are not that uncommon, and that there have been previous incidents of homophobia in the past. Surely, this is enough to warrant an immediate and thorough investigation into the behaviour of the CPS Security Guard(s) involved. According to the victims and their witnesses, a security guard stood idly by observing the incident, without immediately intervening. Frank Sam, security HOD at the University, should provide an immediate, and very good, explanation for the inaction taken by the CPS regarding this incident. The CPS are there to protect the students, and inaction on their part is un-justifiable. The excuse that the victims “insulted the guards” cannot serve as a reasonable excuse to any sane-minded individual, and is worse than pathetic. I absolutely refuse to even entertain the notion that being insulted is a good enough reason not to do your duty as a human being, and help someone else in need, whether employed to do so, or not.

If UWC Spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo's comment that “staff and security broke up the fight” is in fact true, then I would like him to present a feasible, alternative explanation for the injuries sustained by the victims. An explanation, I would like to add, that will stand up to serious scrutiny and not be fobbed off with all this ridiculous nonsense about insulting the guards.

I lay the blame for this unfortunate and senseless attack squarely on the shoulders of UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academics, Prof Ramesh Bharuthram. It appears that Prof Bharuthram is not very concerned about the welfare and well-being of the students, but rather by how many post-graduate students are currently completing theses for publication. Publications mean more money, which is of course the core issue here. Being in charge of academics at the university, Prof Bharuthram is much more concerned about funding and academics than he is about his students' welfare, and, now, their safety. For example, the University’s Extended Curricular Program (ECP), designed for those students who require extra academic assistance and attention, is funded 100% by the government, and gets no contributions (financial or otherwise) from the University itself, despite the ECP Programme being not only warranted, but crucial and essential for many young students.

The concept of the ECP is so simple and yet so brilliant: If more students receive the help and support they need and so desperately require (academic support or otherwise), more students will graduate with an undergraduate Bachelors Degree. More students graduating will most certainly lead to more postgraduate study applications, which in turn leads to more publications, and more funding. The designer of the ECP scheme had the insight to realise that if more students pass, the academic and financial long-term gain and benefits would far outweigh the short term monetary burden which would be required to properly initiate the scheme. The brilliance is that the scheme is self-sustaining, and would not just increase the numbers of students enrolling and graduating, but also do so in an increasing fashion. More and more students enrolling each year will inevitably lead to more and more students graduating, eventually leading to more money.

While it is true that the University would lose income slightly on the short term, eventually resulting in a substantial increase in income and funding a few years down the line is definitely something worth doing (the ECP scheme is now in its 6th year). This is a win-win situation and I do not see any feasible or logical reason for why Prof Bharuthram should continue to exclude the ECP scheme from the funding and support that it requires to run successfully.

So, Prof Bharuthram is not only ignoring his students' welfare, but is also doing great damage to the chances of young and eager first year undergraduate students who wish to complete a Bachelors degree, but are unable to do so without the extra help that ECP is designed to provide. If Prof Bharuthram actually supported other desperately-needy areas, such as the ECP – which he just takes all the credit for, far more students would benefit as a result than those currently in his favour. Even more amazing to me, is the fact that students have to complete undergraduate studies before they can continue to post-graduate level, so it stands to reason therefore that funding should be urgently allocated to the undergraduate students with all due haste.

If student societies, such as Gayla-UWC, received the help, support, and funding that they should be getting (and would be receiving in normal circumstances), these kinds of homophobic incidents would not take place. A university is first and foremost a place of learning. The students are there to listen, learn, and be educated, not just by the Academic staff, but also by the participation of and by sport, musical, choral, art, culture, gender, and religious societies among many others. People need to be educated and be made aware of the LBGTI community, and other minority groups. Ignorance breeds confusion, confusion leads to panic, and panic turns into violence. Universities as institutions of higher learning should actively engaging students in tolerance and respect for all their fellow students, as well as other members of society.

I refuse to even entertain the age-old excuse of “we don't have enough funding” and “budget cuts”. Utter Nonsense! If the University can afford to fund academic causes, then by default it must support and fund student development too. If the University continually pleads poverty and lack of funds, then there is obviously a problem with the University's financial management. Surely it stands to reason that UWC should fund, at least in part, and take an active interest in, the student societies and all other University “team and spirit building” activities?

Prof Bharuthram's current “no-care” attitude towards the undergraduate students is extremely disheartening and disappointing. However, if evidence to the contrary exists, then I would very much like to see it...

I am not in anyway suggesting that the current recipients of university funding be cut off. Rather, I would suggest a budget re-shuffle, as well as for a “board or committee” to be formed, upon which all funding decisions will fall and be decided. It makes more sense for a group of people to discuss funding allocations than allowing it to fall to one person. This way, a good and logical decision on a funding application can be reached by vote, after all the relevant facts have been given, and all the feasible options properly evaluated.

The fact that vital parts of the University Community receive no funding or support from the University itself, is entirely in the hands of Prof Bharuthram. As the Rectors', Prof Brian O'Connell, deputy, he is in control of the University Chequebook, and as such, has the last say on who gets the biggest bite out of the apple. To me, it appears that Prof Bharuthram is biased and not impartial in his allocations of University funding. As a distinguished academic, he certainly cannot use blind ignorance as an excuse.

Prof Bharuthram should be reassigned back to his field of Theoretical Plasma Physics, and a new Deputy Vice-Chancellor be appointed, preferably one with a sound background in education, as well as proven financial management skills and experience.

I know that I appear to have attacked Prof Bharuthram in my comments above, however as he is certainly partially responsible for the current situation on campus, he needs to justify his decisions and explain his actions. I am in no way disputing Prof Bharuthram's reputation and integrity, I am merely outlining the conclusions that I have drawn based on my knowledge and experiences as an ex-UWC student.

Undoubtedly, there will be some who disagree with me, which is certainly not unexpected. If you draw a differing conclusion, or have an alternative explanation, kindly inbox me, I would love to hear it. Constructive and relevant argument drives progress. However, there is no denying that the conclusions I have drawn, and opinions I have given here, are not without merit.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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