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Get your heads out the sand, VCs, and tackle campus violence


Get your heads out the sand, VCs, and tackle campus violence

There are many reasons for this behaviour and vice-chancellors need to put fear aside and act or it will persist


The vice-chancellors (VCs) of SA’s 26 public universities are a rather timid lot. Since Adam Habib left Johannesburg’s Wits university and Saleem Badat moved on from Rhodes in Makhanda, higher education has been starved of public intellectual leadership at the top of the academic pyramid. Most of my colleagues keep their heads down out of fear of reprisals or not realising what a powerful platform they have on which to speak truth to power on behalf of the powerless.

So it came as a welcome surprise last week that the leader of the University of the Free State (UFS) said so eloquently what everyone else was thinking but too afraid to say publicly: that the now routinely violent student protests are “opportunistic criminality in the guise of legitimate protest” and that “by letting criminality go unpunished and not speaking out against these acts we are contributing towards a culture of entitlement”. I know some VCs sent private notes of appreciation.

But Prof Francis Petersen had hardly spoken those courageous words than one of the campuses of his university went up in flames; two buildings were damaged to the tune of about R35m. Five of the seven arrested were students. Arson suspected. In-person classes suspended for online instruction. Shock, condemnation and any number of videos available online to “watch” this horrific event until the next fire starts somewhere on a campus near you...

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