Habib’s mistake of saying n-word in full is unacceptable but does not make him racist, probe finds
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Johannesburg - Professor Adam Habib’s “mistake” of vocalising the N-word in full did not itself make him a racist, University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)’s external investigation has found.
The former Wits University vice-chancellor was suspended from his new job as SOAS director after he used the N-word during a video meeting with students in March. Habib had agreed to “step aside” while the matter was being investigated at the university.
The chairperson of the SOAS Board of Trustees Marie Staunton said the board met on Tuesday and accepted the full recommendations of the independent external investigation.
“I want to be clear especially on the use of the n-word: the report notes that the Director spoke the word in full while trying to say that it should not be used within the SOAS community and that he has since acknowledged that speaking the word in full was a mistake, for which he has apologised,” Staunton said in a statement from the institution.
The chairperson added that the report was nonetheless critical of Habib’s response to students at the meeting and in his subsequent tweets.
“The report found that Professor Habib’s mistake of vocalising the n-word in full, while trying to say that using the word offensively is unacceptable, did not in itself make him a racist,” Staunton said.
Staunton said that with the understanding that all the recommendations for the investigation are being put in place, Habib will resume his duties as SOAS director from Monday.
The recommendations of the independent investigation include, putting in place a restorative justice approach for the N-word incident and the events arising and developing, a clear policy for the SOAS community on the use of the N-word.
The report further recommended that Habib be provided with specific advice and support on equality, diversity issues in the higher education sector and produced a statement from the board on the lessons learned from this experience and regular reporting to the SOAS community.
She added that in a statement after the Board meeting this week, Habib accepted the judgements of the independent investigations “unreservedly” and “completely supported” the recommendations.
“I want to again apologise to all the SOAS community for my conduct, for the offence and hurt, and for the disruption this has caused … I reiterate my commitment to act against all forms of racism, and to work with the SOAS community in identifying and fashioning specific interventions to address the exclusionary experiences of black people and other communities within the institution,” Habib said in the statement.
The cleared director added that there was a lot to do to rebuild from this incident.
“There is action to be taken to address racism and anti-Blackness. I believe we can and should do this together. I understand why some in our community will take a long time to trust me. I promise I will do all I can to re-earn your trust and respect,” Habib said.
Staunton added that the board understood that those who had called for Habib to step down may not be happy with the recommendations of the investigation and the outcomes.
“We ask that they read the independent report recommendations and ask if they can bring themselves to work with SOAS to implement action so that together we can achieve the important work that is at the heart of SOAS,” the chair said.