File Picture: Jason Boud
File Picture: Jason Boud

Anger after UCT appoints 69yr old retired white man to head up transformation

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Apr 8, 2021

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Cape-Town - THE appointment of a 69-year-old retired white man as the acting deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for transformation at UCT has been labelled a slap in the face of many suitable black, femme and queer candidates who should be encouraged to take up the portfolio.

Weighing in on controversy surrounding the appointment of British historical archaeologist and Emeritus Professor Martin Hall, UCT’s Student Representative Council (SRC) in a statement yesterday said they opposed the appointment even if it was a temporary one.

Reports emerged at the weekend that the DVC for transformation, Professor Loretta Feris was replaced with Hall, who served in a variety of roles at UCT between 1983 and 2008, on a R2 million salary package at a time when academics, staff and unions have been ordered to make cutbacks.

In a statement on Tuesday, UCT Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said Feris’ term was set to end on December 31, 2021 and she did not seek a second term of office.

“The DVC informed me as her line manager of her decision early enough to enable the commencement of the recruitment process for her substantive successor. The DVC then requested and was granted sabbatical… which brought her term to an end earlier. We remain deeply grateful for the work that she has done during her tenure,” Phakeng said.

“When determining candidates to serve in an acting capacity, no applications are requested or sought, she said. The vice-chancellor proposes the name of a possible candidate for the Council’s consideration and decision.

“One of the benefits of a university having emeritus professors is for us to be able to call upon them in emergency or unforeseen situations.

“It is deeply problematic to suggest that the ability of members to serve the university for a limited acting period can only be on the basis of their race, age and gender. UCT remains committed to the transformation project while at the same time being a diversified campus where all members of the campus community can have a place and make a contribution.”

Hall will occupy the position until a substantive appointment is made, Phakeng said.

“The appointment was done in line with an endeavour... to have an individual who does not have any interest in the role beyond the acting period.”

She said Hall was a former UCT deputy vice-chancellor whose portfolio included transformation.

“He foregrounded and anchored Employment Equity at UCT. He was also responsible for among others the setting up of the university’s transformation office and the formation of transformation committees at the institution.”

UCT’s Black Academic Caucus (BAC) yesterday said the move was at odds with the tenets of UCT's own recently crafted Policy on Employment Equity which came into effect on March 1, this year.

“The policy applies at all levels, including to fixed-term contracts. UCT's HR policies also placed great value on the development of its employees, and in particular those from designated groups, among other avenues, via secondments to act in vacant senior positions.”

The BAC said it rejected the reliance on white retirees being roped in to act in vacant senior positions.

“We urge UCT to release to the public the full statistics regarding the acting arrangements in vacant senior positions over the past years until now.”

The SRC said the appointment signalled the institution’s endorsement of patriarchy and whiteness, perpetuating historic power imbalances.

“We are not confident that an individual, long lost to UCT, and who is ignorant of the lived realities and struggles of the many marginalised identities who desperately seek the transformation of the institution, is in any way suitable for the role.”

They slammed the universities defence of the appointment in the name of “diversity”.

“At a time where the revisiting of the Mamdani Affair forms part of a key objective of the SRC, the appointment of Hall, who was vocally opposed to Professor Mahmood Mamdani’s vision for decolonising the African studies curriculum at UCT in the 1990s, signals a further hurdle added to the mission of taking progressive steps to rectify the matter.

“This appointment is a slap in the face of the many suitable black, femme, queer candidates who should be encouraged to take up this portfolio.”

Cape Times

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