UCT lecturer ostracised after column
Share this article:
Cape Town - A UCT lecturer says she received hundreds of hate e-mails and was “pretty much ostracised” on campus after writing a column for the Cape Argus in which she raised questions about transformation at the institution.
People even called her home to threaten her.
Dr Siona O’Connell’s column, “ What UCT’s not telling their first-years”, was published in the Cape Argus and IOL on January 19 and elicited more than 700 comments on IOL.
Speaking to students and staff at UCT’s Kramer Building on Thursday, O’Connell said: “I had no idea 900 words could cause such utter outrage. I received over 800 hate e-mails. I received phone calls to my home at night. All kinds of threats.”
In the column O’Connell wrote that she doubted that first-years would be told that their chances of being taught by a black professor would be slim.
“I cannot imagine they will learn - despite almost 21 years of South African democracy - that this picturesque institution on the slopes of Table Mountain has actively failed to develop, appoint and promote South African black academics in any ways that do much more than a particle or two of justice to the demographics of the Western Cape and of the country as a whole.”
She stated that by 2013 the total number of black academics at UCT was 48 out of total of 1 405 and there was not a single “black African” South African woman who was a full professor at UCT.
O’Connell had been invited to address students by the UCT Black Law Students’ Forum. She said that for a while she started to think that maybe the fact that UCT didn’t have a single black woman professor 21 years after democracy was normal.
But O’Connell said she started listening to peers “in the same boat” and “almost always without fail from law to science, to the health faculty, commerce and humanities, they all echoed and reiterated exactly the same things”.
She said “unless there were conversations such as these” nothing would change, adding that it was time for practical change.
Speaking to the Cape Argus after addressing the students, O’Connell said she had been deeply encouraged by the invitation from students and said the questions they had asked her spoke of exactly the same kind of experiences which she had highlighted.
Pat Lucas, manager of communications and media liaison at UCT, said UCT management had had formal and informal meetings with O’Connell to discuss her concerns about academic transformation.
She said these meetings had included a formal discussion with vice-chancellor Dr Max Price and the dean of humanities, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu.
Price had also been in similar discussions with other members of staff who were concerned about transformation.
“As Dr Price has said, transformation is slow in the academic sector across South Africa for a number of reasons. It generally takes more than 20 years from getting a PhD to becoming a professor. Those graduates are in high demand for better paying jobs in government and the private sector.”
Lucas said the university regarded any form of harassment or hate speech as a criminal offence, and urged any staff member or student who experienced harassment in any form, to open a case with UCT’s discrimination and harassment office and the campus protection services. “Such action enables the institution to take direct action.”
* IOL is closing comments on this story to prevent further abuse of Dr O’Connell. We do not have the resources to pre-moderate comments to prevent abuse.