A group of concerned students at the University of Cape Town’s Law Faculty have penned their concerns and grievances in a statement issued recently in hope to reignite dialogues and engagement on the issues they are facing and effect change in their faculty.
They are fed up with the institutional racism and university culture that alienates students who do not fit in or identify with the culture because as they claim- it is racist and exclusionary. They would like some form of engagement on the issues they are raising and compel those directly and indirectly invested in the success of their faculty to deal with the issues outlined in their statement.
In the statement, they raise issues such as their concerns regarding appointments in the faculty which they claim to be racially biased, the effects that faculty politics has had on students and their ability to perform, as well as their concerns regarding the victimization of students and staff who have chosen to speak out on these same issues through the appropriate channels. They also call out the HOD of Public Law who they claim has victimized students and staff during her time in the faculty.
Read Full statement below:
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this statement are not necessarily the views of Vernac News NPC.
The University of Cape Town’s Law Faculty, now located in the Kramer building, is said to be one of the oldest faculties in the institution. This is largely evident through the culture still embodied by both staff members and students. The faculty carries with it an unpalatable continued legacy of racism and alienation towards people who are on the margins of society.
We write this statement as concerned Law students, bearing cognizance of the fact that we are not represented officials of any said constituency, but instead a collective of concerned law students in an effort to highlight various structural issues affecting black students and staff alike. We write this against the backdrop of the now released IRTC report that concluded that UCT is indeed a racist institution. We wish to show how this manifests itself in the Law Faculty. We also wish to draw attention to the need for the faculty to openly commit to rectifying the latent structural issues that have led to the systemic exclusion of black people within the faculty and feel that this can only be done through transparency and public accountability.
It has been brought to our attention that the faculty has permanently employed four white women. This appears to be contrary to the faculty’s claims to a commitment to transformation- particularly when it comes to the racial demographics of the staff. At least three of these posts were not advertised to the general public, and no reasons/justifications were advanced by the faculty for this decision. If the posts had been advertised, the Faculty would have had the opportunity to consider black applicants who are of the same calibre, if not better than the current appointees. Doing so would have been consistent with their mandate for transformation as it would have allowed some of the posts to be filled by black academics.
Deliberate efforts to neglect junior black academics
In the past year the faculty has lost a number of brilliant emerging black academics, who left for various reasons including to pursue further studies elsewhere. Some of the black academics who left made mention of how faculty politics involving mostly senior staff led to them feeling demoralized, unwelcome and in some instances, bullied.
There exists a mentorship programme for junior academics in the faculty that is meant to mentor and provide guidance to junior academics. However, we contend that no adequate grooming can come out of this programme if the mentors available in the faculty continue to endorse a culture that systematically excludes black people. Furthermore, we note that the departed black academics are being replaced by white academics. If it is, that there 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. We are of the belief that this is one of the many ways in which the faculty’s racist culture manifests and is allowed to thrive. The participation in this aforementioned exclusion can manifest itself more overtly through blatant threats and mere complacency.
Faculty politics having detrimental effects on students
The Faculty’s internal staff politics always has a direct impact on students academic standing, mental well-being and quality of education. This was evident by the manner in which senior staff dealt with the uncertainty surrounding the Final Year Administrative Law course. This uncertainty began on the 29th of April 2019. Students were left in the dark about the absence of one of the lecturer’s who is teaching a significant portion of the course, as well as the manner in which the lecturers section will be taught and assessed. There was a failure to respond to the fact that, in the absence of this lecturer, there was no other academic adequately prepared to teach and examine the section in the appropriate time. When students raised concerns about the clear gaps that were forming in their education, their concerns were suppressed.
The above speaks directly to one of the conditions we had to meet in order to retain our accreditation, which is that poor course coordination was one of the reasons for the notice of withdrawal. The haphazard manner in which the current situation is being dealt with resembles the manner in which the faculty dealt with incidents in the faculty last year regarding our former Dean; as well as the notice of withdrawal of the LLB accreditation. When there is a crisis in the faculty which has a direct impact on students, questions asked by students in this regard are either avoided, disregarded as superfluous exaggerations or shut down. These incidents all illustrate that staff politics directly and adversely affects students, and regardless of the number of complaints raised by students nothing is being done to mitigate against the infiltration of staff politics in our daily learning.
We are frustrated with being the faculty staff’s collateral and we acknowledge that black staff , moreso black admin staff, often fall prey to the faculty’s racist antics and experience various forms of bullying by senior staff members. Drawing on various encounters many staff members have had with the former faculty manager, who would openly victimize and antagonize students in various ways. This includes sabotaging concession applications and/or exemption applications in instances when she disliked students.
Issues around victimization
The faculty has a history of victimizing dissenting voices or those who choose to openly question problematic faculty practices. The victimization prevalent within this faculty seems to disproportionately affect black students and staff and many students can attest to the ways in which certain members of the faculty have actively gone out of their way to make life difficult for them in their time at the faculty. Various lecturers are implicated in the claim we make but we wish to draw attention to the HOD of Public Law, who has targeted various students and staff members in her time in the faculty. The problem with many of these acts of victimization is that they manifests as microaggressions that are difficult to articulate in a manner that the faculty will take seriously. Furthermore, when issues about racialized victimization are reported to the faculty through the legitimate channels that exist they are often left unattended and no updates are given as to the measures the faculty has taken to address them.
We raise all the aforementioned knowing that we are not the first to raise these issues to the attention of the faculty and with the understanding that we are not elected representatives of the students in the faculty. We write this as a collective of concerned students. We acknowledge the efforts of our predecessors, those still in the faculty and those no longer here. We make a call to the powers that be (within the faculty and those with a vested interest in the continued success of the faculty and its students) to take an active role in dealing or at the very least engaging with the various issues outlined.
Yours in Resistance
Concerned Law Students