Dr. Russell Ally's Response to RW Johnson
10 May 2016
I do not generally respond after I have written an article as I believe that once it is out in the public, it should be read on its merits. And the public should be free to express their opinions without constant interjections by the author.
But given the many reactions to my response to the articles by RW Johnson and Ken Hughes, it seems that a response is warranted, if only to clear up some confusion, and indeed also some mischief making. So please indulge me:
My article is NOT a UCT institutional position. UCT is a large, complex university with many and varied viewpoints.
It is NOT the position of all UCT alumni and I made no claims that this the position of all black alumni.
I only identified myself as the head of UCT’s Development and Alumni Department because I believe it is important that people who read my article should know who I am. I do not believe in hiding behind anonymity. and I believe that UCT alumni deserve to know who heads that office of their alma mater and what his (in my case, it is a he) perspectives are.
I never accused either Johnson or Hughes of being racists. I do not believe in playing the ‘race card’ as a substitute for argument or as a way of shutting down people. It is an unfortunate development in discussions in our country and harmful to honest exchanges and robust debate.
My article is polemical. And for this I make no apologies. And the thrust of my article is that both Hughes and Johnson use scaremongering underpinned by bigotry to discredit transformation generally, and to discredit in particular what is presently happening at UCT. I stand completely by this view. And I emphasise again: this is my personal view.
When I say that UCT alumni will see through that ruse, of course, I mean alumni who share my view. I would never be so arrogant or presumptuous to assume that ALL alumni (or even a majority of alumni) share my view.
I would however hope that as a progressive university and because of the factual evidence I presented, most alumni, white and black, would see through the ideological bias of Johnson and Hughes’ respective arguments. Not even this means that they would necessarily still share my perspective. My hope was that it would cause them to want to investigate for themselves what is actually happening at UCT academically and then come to an informed opinion.
The second purpose of my article was to challenge the notion that transformation means the decline of standards or the “dumbing down” of the university as this is really the central thrust of both Johnson and Hughes.
For me, transformation is integral to UCT’s future as a leading university. The two are not counterposed or mutually exclusive but are in fact inextricably connected. I believe that you cannot have the one without the other. More strongly, without transformation (and we can debate what we understand transformation to mean), UCT will not only decline but it will be destroyed. This is my view but a view that I hope is widely shared at UCT and I hope also by the majority of our alumni.
Finally, the main purpose of my article was to try and convince UCT’s alumni and friends to continue to believe in UCT and to continue to invest in the university. This is important now more than ever, given the many challenges that the university is facing. This is my responsibility as the head of the Development and Alumni Department. To always look out for the best interests of the university. And as long as I am employed in this position, I will endeavour to do this to the best of my abilities.
UCT’s Development and Alumni Department is a place for all of UCT’s alumni. You are an alum of UCT by virture of having studied at the university NOT based on your views, opinions or ideological stance. Ken Hughes remains as much of an alum as I do. The fact that I believe he speaks for a UCT in the past does not change that. And as much as I criticize what I think he stands for – based on the articles he has written – I will be the first to defend his right to express his views.
But we must NOT confuse freedom of expression with academic freedom. With academic freedom comes a higher responsibility to scholarship, evidence, research and peer review. We must expect more of our universities if we are to create societies that are democratic, fair, equal and free.
I promise that there will be no further responses by me on this particular matter. It is now out there in the public domain.
Russell Ally, Director: Development and Alumni Department, University of Cape Town