Universities desperately seek demographic representivity

Staff Writer | May 20, 2019
Higher salaries elsewhere rob universities of black talent, but some claim faculty politics is an issue.

The law faculties at the universities of Cape Town (UCT) and the Western Cape (UWC) do not have any black African professors or associate professors from SA.

Several senior black academics who have been appointed are from other countries.

This was revealed in a Sunday Times survey of universities after a group of UCT law students said their faculty had lost a number of brilliant emerging black academics.

The students allege that faculty politics practised by senior staff ‘led to them feeling demoralised, unwelcome and in some instances, bullied’.

UCT described the contents of the letter as ‘grossly inaccurate’.

The complaint coincides with this week's launch of the book, Black Academic Voices: The South African Experience. The book captures the personal accounts of black academics at South African universities in the context of the ongoing debate over transformation.

Christof Heyns, professor of human-rights law at the University of Pretoria, said: ‘We are still far from where we should be in terms of the composition of our staff and undergraduate student body. Staff percentages remain a problem as is the case with other faculties, but I think there is considerable progress.’

Jacques de Ville, dean of law at UWC, said the university's attempts to hire black African professors and associate professors from SA had failed because of higher salaries offered at other universities.

Danwood Chirwa, UCT's dean of law, denied that the faculty had lost ‘a number of brilliant emerging black academics’, saying at least 10 young black academics had joined between 2017 and this month.

Commenting on faculty politics playing a role in staff feeling being demoralised, Chirwa said academics ‘do not play politics’.

North-West University spokesperson Louis Jacobs said there was a scarcity of senior academics from the designated group.

Nelson Mandela University spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said: ‘A challenge has been the difficulties associated with obtaining a pool of black academics who are suitably qualified for appointment at professorial ranks.’

The University of South Africa said it was not satisfied with its ‘disproportionate number of white professors and associate professors’.

Former Vice-Chancellor at UCT Max Price complained during his tenure that because of the scarcity of black professionals, the universities couldn’t compete with public and private sector salaries.


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