Jansen chooses to hide behind academic freedom

So much has been said in response to the ANC’s call for University of the Free State (UFS) rector and vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen to apologise for unwarranted and insulting remarks directed at Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

The call for apology has been misinterpreted by some as “ANC meddling in academic freedom”. The ANC would like to place on record that it has no intention of challenging academic freedom, freedom of speech or any of the freedoms we fought for during our struggle to liberate South Africa from apartheid.

Our goal to transform our society is implicit in our actions towards forging a united, nonracial, non-sexist and democratic society.

We fully agree with sentiments expressed by Wilmot James that universities are independent institutions, subsidised by the taxpayers, not the ANC. We have made observations about academic institutions, notably that institutional culture is embedded at many different levels and requires changes in structure, attitudes and consciousness on the part of some academic staff and administrators.

The former minister of education, Naledi Pandor, whom Jansen also berated in a number of his articles, has gone on record saying: “If we fail to frame a unifying institutional culture the promise and potential inherent in the institutional restructuring processes is likely to be ­compromised.”

In all Jansen’s statements, and in contrast with papers written by other academics, he offers no solutions but poses questions and engages in sarcastic debate. This is, of course, his right and the freedom he enjoys as an academic and a citizen of South Africa.

However, Jansen has publicly and deliberately chosen to insult a member of the Cabinet responsible for basic education on the day following his appointment as the new rector and vice-chancellor of an institution of higher learning. The article I refer to was recently published in the The Times newspaper.

His comments were in response to Neels van Rooyen, a member of the provincial legislature, who commented on the situation pertaining to UFS.

Jansen has preferred not to refer to Van Rooyen, who made this comment in the legislature: “The ANC would intervene if transformation at the university did not proceed according to its wishes.” Van Rooyen was raising concern about the comments Jansen made about the minister of basic education and a comment he made in April about the president of the ANC as “unwarranted”.

Jansen chose to insult the minister. We have noted he will not apologise for saying that the minister of basic education was “lazy” and “incompetent”. It takes a bigger person to acknowledge that personal insults do not contribute to an atmosphere conducive to dialogue. We have noted that Jansen has—instead—chosen to mobilise in defence of academic freedom, which is not at risk.

Jessie Duarte is ANC national spokesperson

 

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