With all that is happening at Wits University and the expectations by some of what I should or must be doing, I feel it is important today to explain my role at Wits and also my views on the matter of varsity fee increments:
I am currently the President of Convocation at Wits University – this is an elected position and not an appointment by Wits Council or management. I am not a member of the Wits Management and I do not sit on council.
Convocation is a statutory body comprising all graduates and academic staff. It acts as an official channel that allows members (alumni and academic staff) to convey to the University management their views about the University. Convocation strongly supports the activities of the University and the student body. Despite its support for students and their causes, Convocation is not the official representative of students, it represents alumni and academic staff.
Our mission as the ExCo of Convocation is to foster alumni interaction with the university and alumni communities; to promote active alumni participation in the affairs of the university and to maintain and promote the reputation of the university and contribute to its ongoing development. We have two representatives on the Wits Council – Prof Conrad Mueller and Dr Maurice Goodman. These representatives report to the ExCo of Convocation during meetings which are held three times a year.
As an executive in another University, I am prohibited by policy to sit on council and therefore I personally have no influence on any of the decisions made by council.
On Friday I released a statement as President of Convocation on the matter of the 10,5% fee increase at Wits. Before publishing the statement, I shared it with members of ExCo and it is important to indicate that some of them (a minority) did not support it. Nevertheless, we agreed that I can go ahead and publish it because it goes out in my name.
As a university executive, I understand the financial difficulties that all South African universities face, however, as a parent of children who attend university and also as someone who funds university students (at Wits, UP, Unisa and TUT) from poor backgrounds, I know for sure that a double-digit increase in fees is too onerous and therefore I cannot support it. Unfortunately universities are insufficiently funded by government and therefore are placed in an invidious position, caught between viability and affordability. My view is that rather than pointing fingers at one another and being provocative, aggressive or violent, we should take a collaborative, solution-orientated approach to overcome the obstacles that monetary constraints place on educating our youth, especially from the working class. We need to explore opportunities that will support the financial needs of and empower our youth through access to education.