Ra­madaan re­marks in­ap­pro­pri­ate – UCT

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - Lisa Isaacs

THE Univer­sity of Cape Town has said com­ments made by a se­nior lec­turer in re­sponse to a Mus­lim stu­dent’s ques­tion about exam pro­to­cols dur­ing Ra­madaan were “in­ap­pro­pri­ate and dis­re­spect­ful”.

Stu­dent Nuhaa Soeker had emailed Pro­fes­sor John Hig­gins, of the univer­sity’s English lit­er­a­ture de­part­ment, ask­ing if stu­dents would be al­lowed to break their fast dur­ing a 5pm-7pm exam.

In re­sponse, Hig­gins said: “By break­ing the fast do you mean a five­course meal with dessert, or a small snack whose eat­ing would dis­turb no one around you?

“The exam of­fice, which runs the ex­ams (not me!), makes no men­tion of this, and you would have to ap­proach them for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. But please tell me what you see as fast-break­ing.”

Soeker posted Hig­gins’ re­sponse on so­cial me­dia, elic­it­ing wide­spread out­rage.

Hig­gins later ex­pressed his “un­re­served apol­ogy for the of­fence” caused by the email.

“The stu­dent was con­cerned about break­ing fast dur­ing the 5pm7pm univer­sity ex­am­i­na­tion, and I replied with en­tirely un­ac­cept­able lev­ity.

“I see now that my re­sponse was ap­pallingly ill-con­sid­ered and hurt­ful, and has caused of­fence to the stu­dent in ques­tion, as well as to the broader UCT com­mu­nity and be­yond.

“I am deeply ashamed at the lapse in judge­ment present in my com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and the hurt it has caused, and hope that my sin­cere apol­ogy can be ac­cepted,” he said.

In a state­ment, the in­sti­tu­tion said: “We be­lieve that the re­sponse was, on the face of it, in­ap­pro­pri­ate and dis­re­spect­ful. Its con­tent may no doubt have caused hurt and of­fence.”

UCT said it had mea­sures in place to en­sure that stu­dents were able to ob­serve the fast while ex­ams were tak­ing place, and these were com­mu­ni­cated to deans and heads of de­part­ment a week ago.

Stu­dents sit­ting for ex­ams were al­lowed to sit qui­etly at their desks and break their fast, as had been the case in the past, the univer­sity said.

Stu­dents are also al­lowed to take a short break should they wish to exit an exam ses­sion, dur­ing which they would be es­corted by an in­vig­i­la­tor.

“UCT, as a sec­u­lar in­sti­tu­tion, has deep re­spect for all reli­gions, as is en­shrined in our val­ues.

“We will con­tinue to dis­cuss ways in which we can im­prove to en­sure that we give ef­fect to these val­ues and to en­sure that this is vis­i­ble in our rules and prac­tices and is ex­pe­ri­enced on cam­pus ev­ery day,” the in­sti­tu­tion said.

UCT Mus­lim Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion (MSA) cur­rent af­fairs head Aaliyah Vayej said: “As a stu­dent who is mak­ing a valid con­cern, it is re­ally dis­heart­en­ing to face this from aca­demics.

“We have been in­un­dated with emails from un­der­grads who have said How come we are con­stantly sub­jected to hav­ing to val­i­date our re­li­gion, and then be made to feel like an ad­min­is­tra­tion bur­den be­cause of our re­li­gious be­lief ?”

MSA has been in con­tact with the ex­ams of­fice, UCT’s regis­trar as well as the stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil since Jan­uary re­gard­ing ex­ams dur­ing the fast.

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