Reinvigorating South Africa's Academic Staff
There is an important sense in which the sustainability and vitality of a university depends neither on the students nor the administration. Students are crucial but transient. They arrive and within a few years, depart. It is the same with Vice Chancellors, who are equally transient. They come and go.
A university depends first and foremost on its academic staff. They are the ones who are in it for life, who remain in the workplace for many years. When they flee, either abroad or from one university to the next in the manner of musical chairs, a university is threatened at its core. (This is also true of non-academic staff, but that is a topic for another opinion piece.)
Of course, a core mission of universities is the education and training of students. If they do not thrive the university is as bereft as a hospital without patients. Students share in the invention of knowledge, they challenge encrusted norms. Students catalyze innovation. They are the future of a society.
But not its only future.
Perhaps the most dispiriting result of the past two years of tumult around decolonization at South African universities is that the emphasis on student demand has led to widespread demoralization of academic staff. It does no good to offer free education to students if the academic staff is depleted. A university is a system in which all the parts must thrive for any to thrive. Call this Ubuntu. It takes the entire university to educate a single student.