Varsities battle to find black profs

Law students blame faculty politics and ‘culture of exclusion’

19 May 2019 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER


The law faculties at the universities of Cape Town (UCT) and the Western Cape (UWC) do not have any black African professors or associate professors from SA.
Several senior black academics who have been appointed are from other countries.
This was revealed in a Sunday Times survey of universities after a group of UCT law students said their faculty had lost a number of brilliant emerging black academics.
"Some ... made mention of how faculty politics involving mostly senior staff led to them feeling demoralised, unwelcome and in some instances, bullied," they said.
"If it is a causal connection between the toxic culture of exclusion, which led to the demoralisation of the now absent black academics and the current appointment of only white academics, the faculty must provide adequate explanation for this current situation."
UCT described the contents of the letter as "grossly inaccurate".
The complaint coincides with this week's launch of the book Black Academic Voices: The South African Experience.
The book captures the personal accounts of lived experiences of black academics at South African universities in the context of the ongoing debate over transformation.
At the University of Pretoria in 2007, a group of law faculty academics flagged concerns over lack of transformation. Christof Heyns, who was dean in 2006, wrote at the time: "The present composition of our teaching staff, especially in terms of race, is indefensible."
Heyns, now a professor of human-rights law at the university, said this week: "We are still far from where we should be in terms of the composition of our staff and undergraduate student body.
Staff percentages remain a problem as is the case with other faculties, but I think there is considerable progress."
According to figures from the faculty board, South African black academic staff had doubled from 14% in 2012 to 29% last year.
But in law schools across the country, white professors and associate professors still outnumber their counterparts from other races. Seven of the universities that responded have a total of 25 professors and associates from other countries.
The law faculties at Stellenbosch and North-West each have only black African South African professor.
Figures supplied by the seven universities reveal that 47.2% of academics were white compared with 28.5% black African, 8.6% coloured, 7.8% Indian and 7.8% from other nationalities. At UCT, 43 of 89 academics are white and 14 are black African.
Jacques de Ville, dean of law at UWC, said the university's attempts to hire black African professors and associate professors from SA had failed because of higher salaries offered at other universities.
"Earlier this year, we offered a full professor post to an African associate professor from the University of South Africa, but it was declined due to the lower salary scale at UWC," he said.
Danwood Chirwa, UCT's dean of law, denied that the faculty had lost "a number of brilliant emerging black academics", saying at least 10 young black academics had joined between 2017 and this month.
"There is every reason to suggest that the faculty's efforts to become more demographically inclusive are starting to bear fruit," he said.
Commenting on the students' claims that some black academics who had left mentioned how faculty politics involving mostly senior staff had led to them feeling demoralised, Chirwa said academics "do not play politics".
He added: "They are employed to teach and research and are held accountable for the manner in which they discharge their responsibilities."
North-West University spokesperson Louis Jacobs said though the faculty had taken steps to improve the demographics of its academic staff, there was a scarcity of senior academics from the designated group."We have advertised for a number of positions at associate professor and professorial level for four times in a row over 18 months, and have been able to appoint one candidate from the designated group," he said.University of Johannesburg spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said that from having only one black South African associate professor in 2008, it now had two black South African professors and three associate professors.Nelson Mandela University spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said there was an under-representation of black professors."A challenge has been the difficulties associated with obtaining a pool of black academics who are suitably qualified for appointment at professorial ranks," she said.Unisa said it was not satisfied with its "disproportionate number of white professors and associate professors".

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