Wits University hosted a ceremony recently to welcome 26 grant recipients of the Carnegie Diversifying the Academy (CDTA) programme. The grants, which have been awarded since 2015, seek to attract and retain a socially diverse professoriate.
The Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi gave opening remarks and highlighted the importance of diversifying academia in South Africa so that these academics can contribute their unique perspectives to solving the world’s problems.
Since inception, the grant has supported 120 academics, including the current cohort, to advance their personal development while becoming part of an active research university community that values diversity, transformation and a culture of building on past learnings.
In her address, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ruksana Osman said that while the programme has traditionally focused on strengthening the professoriate, it has identified the parallel need to support those entering the academy. Indeed, two-thirds of the recent recipients are at lecturer level.
In addition to the Diversifying the Academy initiative, the University has also introduced the Enhancing Mid-Career Academic Transitions (EMCA) programme – also sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation – which is an academic development programme aimed at mid-career researchers.
This programme is a collaboration between CLTD, the Research Office and the Transformation Office.
Grant recipients from the 2021 cohort, Kholiswa Malindini of the Wits School of Governance and Dr Thabelo Ramantswana of the School of Construction Economics and Management, both said that the grants represent an opportunity for personal career development.
Ramantswana said she is excited to be part of the group and looks forward to support from the more experienced on how to manage grant and related processes.
For Malindini, the grant offers an opportunity to reshape her career.
“I have been able to buy out of my teaching contract and am freed from that rigid programme so it means I can concentrate more on my research that includes development economics,” she says.
The event held on 25 February provided the first opportunity for recipients to network with each other and key members of the University. Group mentorship sessions are in the pipeline.
Prior to Covid-19 the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies completed a broad review of the University’s diversity grant programmes and formulated key recommendations to bolster the programmes. An overview of the review findings and recommendations were presented by Dr Hayley McEwan of the Centre for Diversity Studies at the Welcome Day event at Wits on [date].
McEwan said the methodology of the review was multifaceted and included analysing employee data from 2009 to 2019 in terms of race, gender and disability; a literature review; a review of policies and strategies; as well as 79 personal interviews with grant recipients, Heads of School and Deans.
From the R45 million set aside for transformation programmes in 2017, around R35 million has been used to bring in new academics from industry and other universities. Recipients of enabling grants meanwhile have been able to buy out their teaching contracts to focus on research. These strategies mean that Wits is able to attract fresh talent, introduce industry-relevant insights and help tailor career planning for staff members. These strategies have been popular.
“In doing this review we found people who are doing amazing work, and people just want more of these programmes. Recipients loved this programme and want it to be made available to more staff members and mid-career academics,” McEwan said.
McEwan highlighted that recipients had however indicated a need for more structure in the grant programme. Feedback from academics suggested a need for stronger alignment of the programme to Wits’ core diversity strategies; improved and consistent mentorships and coaching; professional development; improved networking with other recipients and within the University; and better communication flow overall. The recommendations raised have been included in an overhaul of the programme structure.
These changes have included bringing in a project manager, Dr Antonia Wadley, to support Dr Bernadette Johnson, the Director of the Transformation and Employment Equity Office (TEEO), in running the grants. Wadley maintains regular communication with recipients, and provides support, including coaching.
In her closing remarks, Johnson highlighted the importance of ongoing support and for the University collectively to co-create an institutional culture that supports diversity and inclusion, especially within the context of Diversifying the Academy.