‘I am most qualified for this position’ – Professor hits back at UCT for prejudice

 Rose Boswell
Rose Boswell

After being overlooked for a vacant University of Cape Town (UCT) dean of humanities position, Professor Rose Boswell has questioned the university’s selection process as she believes that she is the best candidate for the job.

Breaking her silence after it emerged that she was not considered because she became a naturalised South African after 1994, Boswell hit back saying she was more qualified and experienced than the other two candidates.

“I am a black woman, I have South African citizenship, I am most qualified for this position. Neither of [the other two candidates] has been a dean before. How can I be considered unappointable? It’s even worse when you actually consider my particular history,” Boswell said.

City Press reported two weeks ago that a group of academics, who refer to themselves as the 27% Group, wrote a communiqué meant for council, dated September 11, indicating in part that Boswell was unappointable by virtue of being naturalised after 1994.

In a faculty vote in September, the majority support was for Tanzanian-born UCT associate professor Shose Kessi, while the 27% Group backed University of Johannesburg professor Grace Khunou, who is South African.

Boswell told City Press last week that she had been a dean of the faculty of arts at Nelson Mandela University for five years.

Boswell says she has 20 years of experience as an academic and has been a full professor since 2013.

“I currently manage a faculty of 132 staff members and some 4 000 students. I’ve been doing this job for the past five years without any deputy dean, a feature that is apparent in many South African universities. In essence, I am vastly more qualified than both Khunou and Kessi.

“The strangest part of the story is that one has to experience discrimination in South Africa for [them to be validated]. I’m actually a slave descendant from Mauritius, all of my work has been on racism and discrimination. But it seems that is not enough, one must experience a particular kind of discrimination to be validated in South Africa,” she lamented.

She said she first applied for the UCT position in 2017 but withdrew her application as her child was completing her matric and could not move cities.

“Last year the university asked me to apply for the position and I did. On the day before I was to go to the interview on September 21, the university phoned me to say that the interview had been cancelled for procedural reasons.”

Responding to questions about what the “procedural reasons” were, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola referred City Press to a statement released by UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng dated September 25 last year, meant for staff and students.

In part, Phakeng explained in the statement that a new selection process was started after a recommendation made by a selection committee to the faculty board to appoint a candidate was not accepted.

Following this, a decision was made to begin a new selection process.

“The selection process proceeded well, but only a small pool of applicants applied. The selection committee met to rate the applicants and it was agreed that only one applicant met the selection criteria and should be invited to proceed to interview stage.

“As a committee, we contemplated the complexities of interviewing only one candidate and agreed that we would ideally like to extend the pool of applicants, particularly to black members of the faculty of humanities. The committee approached several such members of staff,” Phakeng wrote in the statement.

Boswell said she was approached by Phakeng and encouraged to apply again to “stay in the race”, which she did.

“The interviews were pushed past April this year to May. I went for the interview and upon completing the interview I was asked to submit my citizenship papers.

“I had already shared with the recruitment office that I am a naturalised South African – this was all in my original application. If I was not suitable, why ask me to apply and why shortlist me for an interview?” she asked.

Moholola said there was no candidate who was deemed unappointable.

“The selection process is ongoing and all candidates interviewed in the latest round are still under consideration. The outcome of this ongoing process will be communicated to the shortlisted candidates upon conclusion of the approval process.

“An appointment has not been made,” he said.

Moholola maintained that the process was confidential.

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