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Open discussion on campus - Su council accepts motions on transformation and Language Policy

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Open discussion on campus


Directly after our meeting with the Portfolio Committee, we again extended an invitation to Open Stellenbosch (OS) to engage in discussions with Management. Since earlier this year, this movement, which consists mainly of students, has been demanding, among others, that all classes should also be offered fully in English. Our experience is that it does not work to enter into discussion with a group of protesters on complex issues during a public gathering, but they do not want to appoint representatives for roundtable discussions. We nevertheless are continuing our efforts to have proper discussions.

[On 29 September 2015, the day after the Council meeting, members of the Stellenbosch University Management met with the Open Stellenbosch collective in the Arts and Social Sciences building. On the agenda were the following points: #Luister video; the Language Policy and the dissolution of Council. An agreement was reached that OS and the University management would meet biweekly.]

Since taking office, I have continuously encouraged critical dialogue as part of our transformation process. Many meaningful discussions have already taken place, among others with the SRC, student societies and our Listen, Learn and Live (LLL) student communities.

The annual election season in student structures has been concluded, and the SRC was elected with the highest voter turnout the past eight years (17,71%). The SRC and other established structures throughout the University – including the Academic Affairs Council, house committees, the Societies Council and the Student Parliament – represent student interests. The new SRC chairperson, Mr Axolile Qina, said the first and most important objective for his term of office was “to unite the campus”.

The Stellenbosch Student Leaders Conference (SU Leads) was presented successfully by the University’s Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development from 6-8 September 2015. It is the seventh time that this training opportunity – one of the largest of its sort in the country – has taken place. It was attended by approximately 1 300 student leaders in elected structures and other student bodies across the University. The conference was marked by critical discussions about transformation on campus, and was constructively participatory throughout.

During the first semester, various student groups submitted proposals to the Management on the implementation of SU’s Language Policy. Staff and students are kept informed continuously of how the process unfolds. Task teams were constituted to give priority attention to bottlenecks. The outcome of the process will take the form of formal feedback.

Protest


While the meeting of the Portfolio Committee took place in Cape Town, OS held a protest march on the Stellenbosch Campus. The previous day, the Municipality had turned down a request for approval of the march because the organisers had not fulfilled legal requirements. SU did not receive any request.

An estimated 250 students arrived in Stellenbosch in three buses from other tertiary institutions in the Western Cape and joined students on the Rooiplein. The protesters walked to Admin B and handed a memorandum to Mr Pieter Kloppers, Director of Student Structures and Communities. The memorandum later was handed to Management.

We recognise the right of students to embark on protest action, provided this takes place according to the rules and guidelines that apply to the entire campus community; no academic or administrative activities are disrupted in any way; such action does not infringe on the right of other students to continue their studies; and it does not involve any risks. At the end of June 2015, a class and a careers exhibition were disrupted, and an administration building was occupied. This is unacceptable. We view disruptive behaviour in a serious light. An investigation was launched in terms of the University’s disciplinary code with a view to possible steps.

In a recent letter, the Minister appealed to all universities to protect people and property against violence. We follow a multifaceted strategy in this regard. SU’s established rules for safe and orderly gatherings are published in the University Calendar Part 1 and are impressed upon students in House Committee training sessions. It also contains application procedures in terms of legislation. All our internal processes are currently being simplified by a task team.


Support for SU mission


What I find very encouraging is that conversations are taking place despite the current tension – or maybe it is because of this that Maties are coming to the fore and doing their bit. I have thanked alumni, partners and friends of the University for their support – not blind or uncritical loyalty, but support for the University’s mission to create a society of “social justice and equal opportunities for all”.

I also would like to thank Council for its support during the meeting with the Portfolio Committee and Senate, which expressed its support “for the manner in which the SU Management has handled the transformation discussions thus far, and also for the new initiatives that have already been announced and implemented” in a motion at its last meeting.

We must avoid the danger of polarisation. AfriForum Youth has announced a “national prevention plan to protect students on campuses”, and the “Afrikaans Alumni Association” used the SU logo without permission. We have notified the member of this grouping’s “Founding Committee” who is listed as “convenor” – Mr Piet le Roux – that our logo must be removed immediately. Mr le Roux is a member of the SU Council, nominated by the Convocation.

Policy on discrimination


The task team working on SU’s proposed policy on discrimination is making good progress. National and international best practice serve as the basis for a draft that is currently being developed for comment. It is anticipated that this will be an overarching policy, with which related policies such as those on sexual harassment, employment equity, etc. shall be integrated. The task team aims to submit a draft to the RMT by the end of the year.



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