The essence of order

2016-02-21 10:56

The erection of a shack in the middle of the campus, arson, and vandalism by protesting students at the University of Cape Town this week was indicative of how troubled South African universities are at the moment.

The absence of order in campuses is worrisome. Because productive learning can only take place in a peaceful and safe environment. Amongst the first steps we should take on our efforts to strengthen our higher education, is to ensure and maintain order in our institutions of higher learning. I doubt anyone would disagree with this notion.

We are an ambitious nation. Post-1994, we’ve set ourselves enormous goals to achieve - whether on educational outcomes, or the fight against poverty, disease, or unemployment. But we should be frank to ourselves – that the breakthrough to these barricades can only be faster only and only if our nation cannot only just read and write,  but can also compete intellectually with China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and other developing nations. And the absence of order in our universities is a sure proof that the road ahead, as we strive to become one of the formidable competitors in the developing world, will be bumpy.

Order has always been of critical importance to me since I was a young star. It dates back to my days as a student at the university.

In my third year at the university I was a sub-warden. My responsibility, in cooperation with my colleague at the time, was residence administration. Because I was committed to maintaining order, almost all students in the house never liked me. I was very unpopular.

What made things worse was that I had stayed in another residence three years prior to moving to the house where I was a sub-warden. So students were peeved by this guy who had come from another residence to rule their house. Imagine the challenge I had to face.

That year was very tough for me, honestly speaking. But what kept me going was that I had support from the senior staff. So I soldiered on – assiduously maintained order and made sure that I punished as much as possible where necessary. Because the residence was a place to learn – it wasn’t a place to party whenever students wanted to.

It became tougher because my colleague and I were not on the same page. He, like most students at the time, thought being a sub-warden was about fame. That he can do whatever he wants – bring alcohol whenever he wants to and start a party whenever he wants to. The outcome was a clash between us. By end of the year, we disliked one another.

What's very interesting is that at the end of that year, the same students who disliked me through out the year, gave me an award for being the best sub-warden. Can you believe it?

I have great sadness that I don’t see this on people at the helm of our universities – the willingness to maintain order. University of Cape Town’s Max Price and Wits University’s Adam Habib do not know how to lead. They don’t. They can’t maintain order – they are failing.

To reform our higher education, amongst the first things we need to do, it seems, is to demote these two men – Max Price and Adam Habib. These two are not leaders, they are populists. And we cannot have populists running our universities. We can’t afford that. The cost is too high.

What we also need to think about as a nation is whether we do need these Student Representative Councils (SRCs) in our universities. Do we really need to have political activities in our universities? What is the cost we are paying for these political activities? We really need to think about this. Because I think these SRCs are divisive, produce turmoil, and are a platform for aspiring politicians whose mission is to achieve political goals, even if it takes burning university property and stalling learning for months. I think that for the purposes of maintaining order, these SRCs should be scrapped. Where the idea comes from, by whom, doesn’t matter; they are not producing desired results, so they must be scrapped.

But, I must say, I remain hopeful. In times of distress, Professor Jonathan Jansen, the rector of the University of the Free State and columnist, revives my spirit. He seems a leader willing to sacrifice his popularity and steer our education in the right direction. Of course he’s not a perfect man – but he understands that he wasn’t elected, he was appointed. He understands the importance of education, and of order. How long he can keep at it is another question. But I hope he won’t bow to political duress at the expense of our education, as Max Price, Adam Habib, and other vice chancellors from other universities have done.

We really need to get serious about this country. I don’t think we are. The message should be clear to students – that should you commit vandalism in campus you’ll be immediately expelled from the university. And that punishment applies to every one of every colour. If you vandalize the university, whether you are white or black, rich or poor, you will be booted out of the university.

Of course there’ll be an outpouring cry from the left: ‘How could you do this? Students have a right to raise their concerns. We should pay attention to their concerns’. Nonsense. You have a right to raise your concerns but don’t have a right to erect a shack in campus or burn the university’s property. If you do that you should be booted out with immediate effect.

Being a decent, well-behaved human being, has nothing to do with race or socioeconomic background. Any person of any race, from any socioeconomic background, can be a decent human being. Any person can respect order. We seriously need to save our education, before it’s too late.

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