Vice-chancellor Phakeng Says “Colour Bar” for UCT Professors Would Be Unconstitutional

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By Sasha Broom

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 2 of VARSITY News.


University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said a “colour bar” for UCT professors – which would establish racial quotas for who could teach at the university – is unconstitutional, amid allegations that a 2018 UCT report left such quotas on the table.


On 20 February, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, activist group Progress SA asked that UCT management maintains its “commitment to the principles of academic and intellectual freedom” in light of the curriculum review process that is currently underway. The letter, which is signed by UCT students, members of staff, and alumni, asked that Phakeng address the “apparent endorsement of the idea that a colour bar should be introduced, to prevent lecturers of the ‘wrong’ race from taking charge of curriculum in general, or else in certain disciplinary areas”.


The document referenced by Progress SA – the June 2018 Curriculum Change Framework published under former vice-chancellor Max Price – focused on “decolonizing” UCT by better representing marginalized communities. The group took issue with the document’s assertion that UCT students felt that white academics “could not claim authority on blackness, black pain, African ideology, course material and productions, or as overseers of curriculum,” which was based on findings from the university’s Curriculum Change Working Group. The report didn’t explicitly mention a colour bar.


The vice-chancellor has responded to the concerns, stating that it would be unconstitutional for a “colour bar” to be introduced. She also affirmed that the curriculum change is a process geared towards transformation that is open to critique and dialogue – not a prescriptive agenda for academic disciplines – in response to Progress SA’s allegations that UCT could remove western theories from its curriculum to promote decolonization.


“The issue raised by Progress SA of an impending colour bar seems to be a fabricated one,” second year student Sahil Dayal told VARSITY. “We can agree that issues on transformation of the curriculum should be led by people of colour, and Black Africans in particular. However, to equate this to a colour bar is misinformed and fear-mongering.”


Unathi Nxumalo, a Psychology and Film student, agreed with vice-chancellor Phakeng that UCT should not pursue a colour bar, arguing that it would be “a race-based quota taken to the extreme.”


Tao Boyle, a third year PPE student, also felt that the vice-chancellor responded appropriately. “Curriculum change is so important, not just from a decolonial perspective but from an academic standard,” she said. “Human knowledge is not stagnant, so what we teach shouldn’t be either.”


Progress SA stated on their Twitter feed that they applaud the vice-chancellor’s response and the affirmation that the curriculum framework will not be a policy document.


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