COMMENT

Teaching at UCT: A reply to Progress SA

VC Mamokgethi Phakeng says it would be unconstitutional for a colour bar to be introduced or enforced

Debate on teaching at UCT

Progress SA recently published an open letter addressed to me, entitled “Please don’t introduce a colour bar for teaching at UCT”.

The letter is a response to the work of the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG) at UCT, who recently released a document called the Curriculum Change Framework. This is a discussion document now open to scrutiny and debate within our community before finally being tabled at Senate for further discussion.

Progress SA in their public letter is asking for clarity on the status of the document, confirmation of the UCT executive’s commitment to academic freedom and is requesting confirmation that no colour bar or barrier will be introduced for lecturing at UCT.

All responses to the document will be debated by the Teaching and Learning Committee and Senate as the highest bodies for academic matters in UCT. In my view, all comments from all stakeholders serve to enrich the ongoing discussion. The purpose of setting up the CCWG was indeed exactly that, to initiate institutional dialogue about curriculum matters.  

An interrogation of the curriculum is essential ongoing work for UCT. Constructive, open engagement and contestations is necessary, as is a diversity of opinions and views. Intellectual curiosity and vigour should be brought to this interrogation. It presents an ongoing and critical accountability for all scholars and for the institution as a whole.

The CCWG was established as a response to significant and increasing pressure arguing that certain lives and parts of our history are neither recognised nor valued in our curriculum. The CCWG was intentionally led by black academics and staff as representivity mattered in the particular context and discussion but it was not a blacks-only forum. Many white students and staff participated. The document the CCWG produced is a departure point for further interrogation, critique and redesign by the broader academic structure. This is now underway.

To answer the concerns of Progress SA directly. UCT cannot prescribe a standard framework for all to follow, nor can a colour bar for teaching be introduced or enforced. The latter would as a start be unconstitutional. The very act of interrogating the curriculum via a process of transparent discussions within the structures and processes of the university will ensure our common commitment to open debate and academic freedom.

Curriculum change or review is a creative, inclusive process of shaping a more inclusive, more representative future. It is, in its consequence, a profound act of transformation.

Rather than seeking to introduce a colour bar, this process lifts the bar on UCT’s ability to engage in challenging and unconventional discussions with an aim of bolstering the academic standing of our institution.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Vice-Chancellor

University of Cape Town

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UCT STATEMENT

Debates ongoing at UCT over the Curriculum Change discussion document

Following the conclusion of the work of the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG), the Teaching and Learning Committee at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is continuing to receive comments and feedback in respect of the Curriculum Change Framework document. The framework is a discussion document, not a policy, and will not be enforced.

In August 2016, the CCWG was initiated to address transformation and decolonisation of the curriculum. Over a period of 18 months, the group facilitated dialogue across the university aimed at developing strategies to achieve meaningful curriculum reform. The outcome of this process led to the Curriculum Change Framework document, which was released in June 2018 and which highlights key pathways to see the university accomplish this goal.

The purpose of the document is to stimulate discussion within departments and among students, course convenors, those on education committees, and anyone interested in interrogating the transformation of the curriculum.

UCT emphasises that the document is a discussion document and not a policy document. In an inclusive and transparent process, members of the UCT community have been invited to send comments on the framework to the Teaching and Learning Committee.

The UCT executive hopes that the document serves as an invitation for academic units at UCT to reflect on their own understanding of curriculum change, as well as on past, current and future practices of curriculum review, innovation and broader change within the academy. This document should not be viewed as a bureaucratic tool for narrow and cosmetic curriculum review. It is rather the result of deep scholarly interrogation of curriculum change that necessitates an honest appraisal of past and current practices in ways that confront injustice, and open up possibilities for resonance with students and their communities.

The executive is very aware that there are different and diverse opinions over the document, which is precisely why a call for comments was made when it was released.

The range and diversity of opinions and views will enrich the document. The executive believes the more opposing and diverse opinions and views that emerge from these discussions, the more enriched any ultimate decisions will be.

These ongoing discussions, and the fact that there are opposing or diverse views, is characteristic of a university space. A university is about contestation of ideas and debates.

The Teaching and Learning Committee will receive and consider all comments, with a view to integrating different aspects into a curricular review. The aim is to table such a document before Senate in the second semester, having first been presented and fully discussed in the faculties.

UCT is committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression, and regards these rights as fundamental to its institutional culture. The executive notes an incorrect view that the framework document could have a bearing on academic appointments. All appointments at UCT are made in accordance with the relevant policies.

The CCWG was established in January 2016. It concluded its work on the framework document at the end of 2017. The group worked on a timeframe of 18 months from April 2016 to October 2017, and then engaged in a writing and critical review process.

Issued by UCT, 8 March 2019