Grocott's Mail

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.

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