Campus a ‘battleground for politics’

Party politics is playing a “devastating” role in higher education and has made universities the terrain where “comrades and racists struggle”, Professor Kalie Strydom has warned.

Strydom was speaking last week Friday at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, where he delivered his valedictory lecture entitled ‘The Long Walk to Higher Education and Training Excellence: The Struggle of Comrades and Racists’.

He argued that South African universities are “increasingly becoming the battlegrounds for political gain which creates a polarised atmosphere on campuses and crowds out the moderate middle ground, thereby subverting the role and function of the university as an institution within a specific context, interpreted globally and locally.”

Strydom pointed to the discussion of racism in South African universities — and specifically at UFS — as an example of the role of politics on campus.

“The Reitz incident at UFS and the infamous Soudien report on racism in higher education in South Africa highlight explosive racial situation in our university and the country.

“It can be stated that white and black, staff and students at our universities are constantly battling with the legacy of the past which is being used, abused and conveniently forgotten, as well as critical events that white and black experience every day of their lives, feeding polarisation of extreme views while eroding common ground.”

Strydom suggests that by choosing not to talk about the “syndrome of racism that is part of the lives of white and black South Africans” there is denial of the nature and scope of the problem.

“Constructs related to race are so contentious that most stakeholders and role-players are unwilling to confront the meanings that they assign to very prominent dimensions of their experience.

“Neither do management at the institutions have enough staff (higher educationists?) with the competencies to interrogate these meanings, or generate shared meanings amongst staff and students,” he said.

Strydom points to his own experience with the pressure of politics, “starting as a racist then becoming a comrade and now again finding myself being called a racist by certain comrades and other better racists on the extreme arrogant left and right of the political spectrum”.

“… I am prepared to say that I think that there is an overemphasis on equity due to political correct pressure that endangers excellence in higher education and training.

“Striving for excellence, mostly free from the negative influences of politics, in HET, from the point of view of the higher educationist, is that we should, through comparative literature review and research, re-conceptualise the university as an institution in a specific context.”

Read Professor Strydom’s full speech

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