NEWS & ANALYSIS

UCT is on a slippery slope – Belinda Bozzoli

DA MP says university should retract its ill-considered reaction to Professor Nattrass' research paper

UCT is on a slippery slope to censoring its own academics and must retract its ill-considered reaction to Professor Nattrass' research paper

7 June 2020

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the University of Cape Town (UCT) to retract its ill-considered reaction to Professor Nicoli Nattrass' research paper "Why are black South African students less likely to consider studying biological sciences?".

The statement, and the claim by Professor Nattrass that the University actually tried to prevent publication of the paper, are both indications that the University is prepared to ignore the Constitution and, particularly, the Bill of Rights and that it has clearly entered into the business of censorship.

After works of art were burned by students, and then censored by the University during the Fees Must Fall protests at UCT, we might have been forgiven for thinking that these were aberrations on the part of the University in extremely troubled times.

But now we find that the management of UCT, prompted by a pressure group on campus, is entering into the details of academic research papers, and what they do or don’t say, their methodology and their research questions.

Even more shockingly, if true, we hear that the University may have tried to stop an academic journal from publishing a paper on spurious grounds. This is not the job of University management.

By entering into the details of the academic realm, we need to ask whether the interests of other pressure groups on campus might also have to be taken into account in due course?

Would a scientist working on evolution be required to censor their research, have their methodology questioned and have their research questions examined, because the work has offended fundamentalist Christians?

Would a biologist working on gene modification be censored because the findings might offend activists in that field?

UCT perhaps does not realise the can of worms it has opened by failing to defend a researcher. The management of a University has no business doing this and UCT must bring this to a close immediately.

According to the Bill of Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes a) freedom of the press and other media; b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; c) freedom of artistic creativity; and d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research".

It is the job of each University to defend these rights rather than to abrogate them. This is particularly true in a society with an ever-more invasive state and government. There are members of the ANC who make no secret of their hostility to the notion of academic freedom, and all Universities would do well to take note of this, and start to protect rather than attack their own academics.

The rights of Professor Nattrass were severely undermined by the university when they condemned her research to be flawed and used Twitter to hang her out to dry in public, allegedly due to pressure by the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) and student activists at UCT.

What is also shocking is how our biggest Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Times, jumped on the lynch mob bandwagon today, calling Professor Nattrass its "mampara of the week".

The only mamparas as far as this matter is concerned, are the University of Cape Town, the Sunday Times and all other keyboard activists who perpetuate a culture that undermines free thinking and academic freedom.

Issued by Belinda Bozzoli, DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, 7 June 2020