Time to move UFS out of racial shadow, says Jansen

The time has come for the University of the Free State (UFS) to move out of the racial shadow of the Reitz incident, its new rector Professor Jonathan Jansen said on Thursday.

“We have a big responsibility, we can keep on accusing each other, with Reitz in mind, or we can move forward and get together,” Jansen told media in Bloemfontein.

Jansen said the UFS would soon be the place that would show South Africa and the world how to reconcile.

“We’re planning to re-brand the university so that South Africa and the rest of the world do not look at us through the vents of race but through vents of reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Jansen said major announcements on the future of the UFS were planned for the week of his inauguration as vice-chancellor on October 16.

International speakers had been invited to speak on aspects of reconciliation, forgiveness and social justice the week before.

Changing the Reitz Men’s Hostel into the Institute of Diversity was still on the cards although the institute’s name might change.

The hostel was closed after a video by four Reitz students landed the UFS in a racial storm.

Jansen said the institute would become a major international centre for studies in race, reconciliation, forgiveness and social justice in education.

“The institute would be advised by a panel of international scholars who are experts in these fields.”

Jansen said although he was initially outraged by the Reitz video incident, it would be too easy to beat up the four children responsible (Reitz residents who made the video) and to call them names.

“They must be held accountable, but the issues involved come from far deeper.”

Jansen said racial issues such as the Reitz incident were not a problem unique to the UFS.

“It is a South African problem and I have been around on South African’s campuses.”

He said transformation was not about counting “black and white” heads, but rather about changes from inside every person.

Jansen said the overall reaction to the planned changes at the UFS had been positive.

“The crux of most emails and text messages I get is people telling me to get politics off the campus and let our children learn.”

Jansen said the UFS would embark on a huge campaign to raise its academic profile, not just in South Africa but also in the rest of the world.

His plans were to establish the UFS as one of the top three universities in the country and one of the top 200 in the world.

“We want every Kovsie to have the best degree in the world.”

Other plans include the signing of ten major international partnerships with other top universities in the word in areas of mutual research interests.

Jansen was also looking for 25 leading scholars in the world to join the UFS in an effort to “boost our research outputs and our research standards”.

The new rector wants the university to have at least five A-rated scientists within the next five years. The university had none currently.—Sapa

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