A better way for UCT to deal with old profs

Mike Berger says the university treated him as a unwelcome supplicant expecting special favours

From the letter written by Patricia Lucas it is clear that UCT is either unable or unwilling to seriously engage with the substance of my issues with the University of Cape Town. Since I don’t want to take up space in Politicsweb further with this matter, this response will be my final word on the topic.

Reluctantly I am compelled to refer back to my 25 year plus association with UCT. I was very conscious then, and still am, of the stature and dedication of the individuals mentioned below and others equally accomplished who are not mentioned. It is this shared history which makes my recent experiences with UCT especially upsetting.

In my 20 year formal association with UCT I shuttled constantly between the Red Cross Children’s  Hospital, where I was Head of the Chemical Pathology Laboratory, and  the Main Medical School Campus and Groote Schuur Hospital. Despite my primary location in a paediatric setting, I served for approximately 5 years as head of the Adult Lipid Clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital which dealt mostly with severe genetic forms of lipid and lipoprotein disorders.

The work included extremely productive collaboration with the late Prof Peter Jacobs, Head of Haematology, using advanced procedures in the management of otherwise fatal forms of lipoprotein disorders. It is fair to say we were world pioneers in this respect. Together with Professor François Bonnici, Head of the Paediatric Diabetes Clinic, I also ran a Paediatric Lipid Clinic dealing with rare and crippling forms of genetic disorders. My laboratory was a national and provincial centre for diagnostic tests for rare and difficult disorders and we contributed to the public health of farm workers by showing that many suffered from sub-clinical forms of organophosphate poisoning.

I was fully involved in the undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and examination programs of the main Department of Chemical Pathology at the medical campus and also to a lesser but significant extent with the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Physiology chaired by Professor Weiland Gevers at Medical School. Two of my younger colleagues in the laboratory or in the clinic went on to become Professors in their own right within UCT Health Sciences.

Short of providing my full CV I believe that this is sufficient to show the depth and extent of my involvement with UCT Health Sciences during the 20 years I was a member of staff there. After I retired from the University of Natal my involvement with UCT continued contrary to the impression given by Patricia Lucas. A partial summary follows below:

- Honorary Senior Lecturer, Department of Chemical Pathology, University of Cape Town Medical School, 1997 – 1999.

- appointment,  Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, University of Cape Town, Feb 2002 – Feb 2003.

- Honorary Senior Lecturer, Human Biology, University of Cape Town, 2002 – 2005. Contributed 2 lectures on Emotion to Biokinetics, BSc (Hons) students 2002.

- Honorary Research Associate in Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research: 1 Jan 2005 to 31 Dec 2007

- Facilitation:

1. Co-facilitator : meeting of Combined Pathology Laboratories – 1997;

2. Recommendations on Pathology Laboratory restructuring - 2000 (two reports);

3. Facilitator for translocation of Combined Endocrine Laboratory from Medical School to New Groote Schuur Hospital – 2000

UCT Summer School:

- 2002: Lecture ‘ The Biology of Morality and Politics

- 2003: Convener ‘Political behaviour: towards a new synthesis’. Lectures: ‘The bio-evolutionary foundations of sociality’; ‘The multi-layered brain of Homo sapiens’; ‘Cultures and conflict’; ‘Group size in human collective behaviour’.

I have thus been productively involved with UCT for over 25 years and continue to have a close association with a number of academics still members of the faculty  or recently retired. This shared history  is a central feature of my adult life and I would have liked to have been made to feel welcome even though in the last 10 years my direct contact has been attenuated. It was in that spirit I wrote to the Acting Dean of the Health Sciences. In the event it took 6 to 7 weeks and a number of reminders before I received the letter reproduced in my original post.

The failure of leadership thus resides not so much in the substance of the response but in the entire process in the course of which I felt treated as a unwelcome supplicant expecting special favours from the University rather than an ex-colleague seeking access to the academic resources at the University’s disposal. As pointed out this bureaucratised brush-off stands in stark contrast to UCT’s response to the exercise of poo-power by a disgruntled (legitimately or otherwise is not the topic of debate here) faction of the student and staff.

I fully accept that I do not meet the criteria for an Emeritus appointment. My somewhat sarcastic reference to this in my original post was not intended to suggest otherwise. I would like, however, to  contest the claim that the University is bound hand and foot by the “ restrictions in the licence conditions to which the UCT Library Services Department is subject”. I am prepared to wager that UCT, should it bother to apply its mind to the matter for a moment, has the creative intelligence to find a way.

Should the University still be at a loss as what alternative approaches it could adopt to a similar request in future may I humbly submit the following letter as a possible model:

“Dear Prof ...

How nice to hear from you after all these years. We are so pleased that you are once more engaging  with UCT. Re the emeritus post I fear we are hamstrung by tradition and regulation and so, much to our regret, we cannot offer you that position.

Re library access: we would really like to help but some clauses in our agreement with the academic publishers are causing difficulties. Could you help us in this regard by giving us some idea of the purpose of this request and whether you think it could fit in with the existing program of any University department? I’m sure we can find a way of facilitating your research so please come back to us as soon as possible. We will only be too glad to be of help in any way possible and I have asked XYZ to liaise with you on this issue.

Kind regards ...”

I hope this helps.

Mike Berger