Ramadaan remarks inappropriate – UCT
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.