Stellenbosch faculty claims bullying over report

A damning letter about transformation at Stellenbosch University has set senior academics of its health sciences faculty on a collision course with the members of council and convocation structures.

On the one side is the transformation lobby that wants more black students at Maties, and on the other are the disgruntled taalbulle (language bulls) who are fighting for the preservation of Afrikaans at the university.

In a scathing letter of complaint sent to vice-chancellor Russel Botman last Friday, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, a department head complained of an “organised and unjustifiable onslaught” against the faculty’s dean, Jimmy Volmink, and its academics.

Usuf Chikte, executive head of the department of interdisciplinary health sciences, told Botman about an adversarial reaction to a study commissioned by Volmink.

Chikte’s letter said members of the council and convocation had dismissed the report, saying that the health faculty was well ahead of the rest of the university in its transformative admissions practices, especially in the case of black undergraduates.

The transformation gains made by the university had been reversed in recent months, Chikte said in the letter.

Recent figures indicated that 77% of the university’s students were white and that it had not admitted more black students, even though the number of eligible applicants had increased, he said.

Chikte said in the letter “personal attacks on my colleagues by members of [the university’s] council and convocation with continued impunity” and the “high-profile, deliberate misrepresentation” of the faculty’s efforts to advance equality, diversity and transformation had compelled him to lodge the complaint.

Botman confirmed receiving the letter and said that he had referred the complaint to the secretary of council.

The university council had asked Botman to investigate the “status of the report”, its acting chairperson, George Steyn, told the M&G through the university’s spokesperson, Mohamed Shaikh.

Christo Viljoen, president of convocation, said the comments made in relation to the report were not part of any organised onslaught against academics in the health ­faculty.

“The comments and criticism of individuals centred solely on this one-sided and unscientific report, which, under the guise of being an investigation into transformation, equality and diversity, unfairly singles out Afrikaans-speaking students and faculty and the Afrikaans language as obstacles,” Viljoen said.

“The air can be cleansed if the dean of the [health sciences faculty] can give an assurance that he, as the responsible officer, strives to and ensures that the language policy of Stellenbosch University is adhered to and applied correctly in the faculty.”

Bongani Nkosi

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