Rhodes resets its compass for change
“It never was about just the name,” says Rhodes University’s Director of Equity and Institutional Culture Noluxolo Nhlapo.
During the next few months, her office will be driving a series of institutionwide discussions leading up to an Transformation Summit on 28-30 July 2017.
However, she confirmed that the name of the institution would be among the issues subjected to the process.
“The summit is the direct result of discussions with students and other stakeholders during the 2015 #FeesMustFall protests,” Nhlapo said.
Just over 10 years ago, Rhodes began the difficult task of to try to steer in a new direction a ship that had been firmly on a course for more than 100 years.
Between 2006 and 2013, the University’s leadership convened five imbizos. Some of the results were a 10% increase in the proportion of Black South African students and the establishment of the Community Engagement Directorate.
However, the Transformation Summit Project Plan, a document prepared by Nhlapo’s office, says subsequent reviews of Rhodes University’s progress in transformation conclude that “while there has been success in implementing some of the resolutions taken at the imbizos, a number of key actions were not implemented”.
A 2011 assessment by former vice-chancellor Saleem Badat identified a laissez faire culture at Rhodes as being a block to change. In the Plan, Badat is quoted describing this as “an aversion to any real democratic and peer accountability”.
Planning and monitoring of a transformation programme were also lacking, according to a 2013 assessment.
In addition, while some transformation plans were in various stages of develop- ment, most staff and students felt the pace of change was too slow.
The University Council in May 2016 resolved to hold the Summit, scheduled for July 2017.
The Plan concludes, “The transformation summit should ideally enable the institution to develop a common understanding of what the institution needs to be and do in order to change with rather than be changed by history.”
However, it’s not a process that belongs only to the University, Nhlapo says.
“The fates of the town and the University are very much intertwined,” she said. “It’s in recognition of this that the Summit task team includes a Rhodes Council member who is also a ward councillor, very much concerned with civic life. We also asked the Council Speaker to recommend individuals to work within the various working groups.”
Including wider perspectives is part of ensuring that things are done differently, says Nhlapo.
“We don’t want to reproduce what we’re doing. We can’t transform anything without injecting new ideas, different ways of seeing things.”
The Transformation Summit web page ( https://www. ru. ac. za/ equityandinstitutionalculture/tsg/) lists the following broad areas for discussion: Living Spaces; Community; Disability; Gender and Sexuality; Labour and the Institution; Languages; Student Funding; Teaching and Learning; Visual Representation; Research; Alumni; Budget.
Key areas of the University’s operations and identity marked for July’s Summit agenda are: Institutional Identity (Purpose, Values, Vision and Name); Students; Curriculum; Staff; Governance; University Income and Financial Management; University Facilities and Services; Visual Culture and Rituals and Sustainability.