#CUT12 – A Rehabilitative Approach is More Sophisticated Than an Outright Expulsion

2014-06-04 00:26

While one surely categorically concurs that violence in institutions of higher learning cannot be tolerated, the outrageous conclusion by the Central University of Technology (CUT’s) disciplinary committee to expel the #CUT12 could and must have reached a logical and considerate compromise, way better than auctioning the future of students to the forces of unemployability. The expulsion of the 12 student leaders (#CUT12) who led a march that involved many students at the Central University of Technology (CUT), Bloemfontein campus, is in my view unnecessary and inconsiderate.

It is reported in The Weekly newspaper that the 12 students were in the forefront of a protest to try and influence the institution to register international students who hadn’t yet received their study permits. “The CUT had declined to register the group of 74 foreign students until they had obtained permits. But the university had also said it would reserve places for the foreigners while it would also help them acquire permits from home affairs. The foreigners were eventually registered after satisfying all requirements,” says the report.

CUT Vice-Chancellor Thandwa Mthembu is quoted by The Weekly saying: “In our small way as CUT, we want to say: Enough with violence. By disciplining the 12 students, we are demonstrating that we wish to live by this mantra”. Here I read about a man who demonstrated with the future of students that his institution has a zero-tolerance approach to violence. I read a reckless comment that puts the reputation of an institution before the future of its primary stakeholders – students. And by the way, what did the vice-chancellor mean by “in our small way as CUT...”?

Is there anything “small” in trashing the future of students for the sake of institutional reputation?

There are many ways through which Mthembu could have proved his institution rejects violence. The best way is to strip the students of their leadership positions since all they did was in the episodes of student leadership, unless the institution will pursue other students who participated in the protest. No one can dispute the need for disciplinary measures to ensue, but the gravity of such measures must be reduced into a parental, considerate one, especially where there's no tangible evidence of harm. I don’t in any way promote misconduct in universities, but I know that when leadership obligations charge at your conscience you can end up doing not-so-good but definitely necessary things to fight for the rights of those you lead.

In this specific case, expelling student leaders shows a weakness in the restorative confidence of the institution. Expulsion is to university students what corporal punishment is to school children. A school teacher who resorts to corporal punishment lacks alternative restorative methods to address the untoward behaviour of the learner. CUT, in its handling of the #CUT12, exhibited an extortionate attitude that such school teachers also possess.

Look, the #CUT12 are student leaders. It is obvious that they wouldn’t have done what they did if they were ordinary students with no representative mandates. In their engagements with the institution, they did so capacitated by their positions in the SRC, not necessarily their membership in the broader student community. It therefore required of the institution to deal with their case on a student leadership level, with the outcome being at best expulsion from the SRC and a possible disbanding of the entire SRC structure to institute an interim committee.

The institution has additionally failed to live up to what one would call an inherent responsibility to groom student leaders – to create better persons out of students. A serious disciplinary process is non-negotiable, but the verdict must not be getting rid of students, not in this case. That’s excessive and begs the questions:

Were any students injured during the protest and to what extent?

Will other students who joined and pledged solidarity with their international students also be academically gunned down?

Did these student leaders destroy any university property, burn tyres and indulge in other forms of vandalism?

What’s going to happen to the rest of the students who were part of the march?

Clashes between student leaders and management will always be there and sometimes as student leaders we may not handle them well. It is the responsibility of the university to facilitate our growth as young leaders. And I am of the view that CUT failed dismally in that regard.

At the end of the day it was a learning curve for both the institution and the student leaders – none of the two groups can claim to have handled the matter with perfection. CUT should just eat humble pie, prepare itself for next year to avoid the same situation regarding international students, and, yes, bring back expelled students, and review its registration policies to make provision for international students to register, regardless of the delay in their study permits.

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