UKZN exposé ‘shocks’ former academic

2018-07-11 17:01
A file image of Members of the SAP keeping an eye out for any protests under the clock tower of Old Main Building at UKZN during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016.

A file image of Members of the SAP keeping an eye out for any protests under the clock tower of Old Main Building at UKZN during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016. (Ian Carbutt)

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A former academic at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has described his “disappointment” with revelations that lecturers there are facing intimidation by students.

Henry Davies (74), a former lecturer of sculpture at the university’s Pietermaritzburg campus, came forward to share his feelings after The Witness on Tuesday published allegations about lecturers being intimidated and attacked by students.

Read: Students attack lecturers

He taught at the then University of Natal from 1972 to 1999, and was also the warden of a residence. He was also a student at the university a decade before he joined the staff.

“It shocked me,” he told The Witness. “I felt a sense of great disappointment that this could occur at my own alma mater. It’s unacceptable. We can’t have this behaviour anywhere, particularly at an institution whose very existence is to debate ideas and search for truth. What kind of people are we educating?”

Davies also expressed unhappiness with the recent destruction that the Pietermaritzburg campus has sustained during protest action. This included residences that were partly set alight — and a jacaranda tree burned to the point it needed to be chopped down.

He said: “It’s not about questioning the validity of the social issues students face. It’s just that violence and intimidation under any circumstances is unacceptable.”

Davies, who said he is still in touch with current academics and ones who have just recently retired, said the added pressure on lecturers these days could account for why this climate exists at the university. “In my time there was that feeling of ‘publish or perish’, but it wasn’t the same pressure there is now, especially with the number of students in each class.”

This could particularly be true for UKZN, with The Witness in February publishing staff grievances about large class sizes and “impossible” performance goals. The university, however, rebutted this at the time.

“Now it seems the emphasis is getting a student to obtain a qualification rather than producing well-rounded students.”

He also said that the problem of students allegedly intimidating and attacking staff has the result that the staff want extra protection from their students, rather than being keen to offer them extra help after classes. Davies feared if the university did not clamp down soon the problem would get worse. “These days complaints tend to be tied up in a lot of procedure and it takes a long time for something to happen. But this is not a problem that will be here today, gone tomorrow. So action is needed.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn

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