Rhodes University has been pursuing a path to re-imagine itself as part of its transformation drive with the issue of name change a hot topic on the lips of academics, alumni and Rhodes University Council.
A press release was issued by the Rhodes University communications office today highlighting a number of issues, the most pertinent of which being that of the university’s name.
Rhodes University Council met last week to evaluate a process to advance transformation at the university which was initiated in 2015, and to solicit views of all stakeholders on the future of its name within the context of its long-term sustainability.
Following a number of delays in implementing the initially agreed process, the council resolved that the transformation of Rhodes University was ultimately the responsibility of the Rhodes University community and that an inclusive process had to be pursued through a broad Institutional Transformation Summit.
Rhodes University held its very successful Transformation Summit at the end of July 2017. One of the recommendations of the summit was that council should devise a mechanism to design, within a six-month time frame, a process that would enable the university to resolve the issue of the future of its name.
Rhodes University Council considered itself ready to make a decision at its meeting last week. It was determined that a decision would be made by secret ballot. “It is significant to mention that Rhodes University Council has not, at least in recent years, had to face a situation where consensus couldn’t be reached on a decision, despite the rich diversity of its members”.
A motion was tabled for the change of the name of Rhodes University. Out of 24 members of the council who were present and eligible to cast a ballot on this motion, nine members voted for the motion and 15 voted against the motion to change the name of Rhodes University.
The matter of the name of the university has been taken very seriously by Rhodes University Council. It set in motion processes that would facilitate its speedy resolution. Given the university’s precarious financial position and the need for the University to prioritise transformation and be responsive to the challenges facing society while maintaining its enviable academic credentials, the university cannot embark on a process of changing its name that will divert the limited resources it has.
While democratic decision-making is, and must always be, respected as a cornerstone upon which Rhodes University is built, its council accepts that further actions must and will be taken to ensure that appropriate recognition is given to the hurt generated by the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes.
The statement read; “since the issue of the name of the university came to the fore in 2015, strong views have been expressed in support of, and in opposition to, its retention. It cannot be disputed that Cecil John Rhodes was an arch-imperialist and white supremacist who treated people of this region as sub-human. There is also a general consensus that there is not much to celebrate about him and the way he went about doing things”.
Further announcements will be made at the appropriate time on additional actions to be taken to ensure that, while acknowledging our historical contradictions and the pain caused, the university continues to deepen the decolonisation and advancement of the institution.
“Rhodes University has, over more than a century, developed a unique identity of its own, which is separate from, and far transcends, the person Cecil John Rhodes. The values that Rhodes University embodies and celebrates are very different to those that Cecil John Rhodes espoused,” the press release read.
The press release highlighted eight core challenges the Rhodes University administration faces including its continued grapple with its financial sustainability. The balance between income and expenditure remains untenable and unsustainable. Government funding is on the decline, placing pressure on the finances and creating uncertainty concerning the funding framework for universities in general. Various initiatives are being undertaken to deal with this significant challenge.
Other challenges include staff remuneration which is not competitive and as a result the university lose academic staff to other universities and private and public sector employers who can make better offers. Employment equity- Rhodes University and the higher education sector in general, face a serious challenge of the scarcity of black academics, particularly at professorial level. Student Financial Aid continues to be one of the university’s biggest challenges despite issuing R38 million to assist academically deserving students who are in financial need. More challenges include upliftment of Grahamstown community and university infrastructure – more capital is required for maintenance and to upgrade and to modernise outdated university systems, and the need to create and sustain an institutional culture that is welcoming, supportive and affirming of all.