Degrees of excellence: Eusebius vs Godzille

This week on Twitter, Helen Zille was part of a thread around the question of whether columnist Eusebius McKaiser was claiming a degree he hadn’t earned. This is his response.

I am truly not scared of the Democratic Alliance’s attempt to discredit me academically. As I said in the tweets that you can find archived under #BlackExcellence, I own my achievements, and they speak for themselves, including my degrees, books, and career in the media thus far. I am not shy about my excellent achievements, and white arrogance won’t change that. 

Sometimes as blacks we are too shy to own our brilliance. When whites do, they are just stating facts or projecting confidence. When we do, we are either arrogant or – ironically – deemed insecure. Let’s stop that rubbish already. Young (and some almost no-longer young) black, brilliant folks won’t and should not be deterred by the hegemony of whiteness.

So, for the last darn time, no, I did not complete my PhD, and no, I won’t. It just isn’t important to me. And I decide what matters to me. I love my multiple careers way too much to be a full-time student again or full-time lecturer, even though I enjoy teaching. I got the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, studied towards the Dphil, and then dropped out.

The crucial thing is that I never claimed otherwise, and to test my sanity, earlier my publisher Louise Grantham confirmed my email correspondence to her a year or two back, insisting that we should not say anything false on the cover of my books. And we did not.

In fact, my friend and mentor Justice Cameron had to persuade me to be comfortable with even the following sentence publicly, “Eusebius studied at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship”, because I told him that some might think even that is an attempt to say I got the doctorate, and (as has now happened courtesy of Helen Zille) because of my public profile it is best to tactically not give any ad hominem ammunition to critics who cannot engage my arguments. 

But Judge Cameron persuaded me that that was self-deprecation in overdrive, and that I am thereby denying the accolade of having been awarded the scholarship and having worked under Ralph Wedgwood and John Broome at Oxford. PanMacmillan had to be reminded by Louise of this fact, because they assumed I graduated from Oxford, or someone manning their website mistakenly did. This I discovered courtesy of James Myburgh gleefully finding and posting it on his site. 

What is crystal clear, despite trolling on Twitter, is that you will find not a single email from me to clients or conference organisers, where I claimed ever to have a PhD. And, as Redi Thlabi pointed out, I am on record in interviews correcting people, including her. I most recently did that on 3Talk with Noeleen, in fact, when we, funnily enough, were discussing Ms Mohau Pheko.

And, on a point of academic arrogance, to be blunt: the very reason I never would claim to have a doctorate is because it is not a requirement of academic or intellectual prowess. I can give you countless examples of folks with PhDs, including in my field of philosophy, that I frankly do not admire academically. Equally, I have had lecturers with MA degrees who are enormously gifted academics and teachers. 

So those are the facts. And I reject with contempt any hint to the contrary. My work, including my three degrees (all of them with distinction), speaks for itself, and I will continue to skewer power, including critiquing and observing the DA and Helen Zille, without fear or favour, as I do other sources of power in society.

So what is really going on is this: Helen Zille found one of my best ever essays on the IOL website to be unanswerable. So, with the help of others who have incurred my analytic wrath before, she attempts to discredit me, instead of engaging. As Vukani Mde pointed out to her – during all this silly side-show about non-faking of a degree, we have yet to hear what is false or not cogent about the essay that set her off! (She of course waspishly brushed him off by saying, with sarcastic use of quotes, that he is a “journalist” – go figure.)

But you don’t escape the poverty trap, sexual abuse, taunts for being effeminate, and the harshness of Oxford, as I did, only to throw in the towel when a difficult moment occurs. So, nope, I am going nowhere, and will continue to write, broadcast, give lectures, and intervene in social and political discourse with confidence. Zuma can’t stop me. Nor Zille. Nor any other person in power in society.

And in the event you missed the essay that touched Zille on her liberal studio, here it is, still awaiting a logical, and evidence-sensitive response. These are my final words on the matter. I consider the issue closed

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Eusebius Mckaiser
Eusebius McKaiser
Eusebius McKaiser is a political and social analyst at the Wits Centre for Ethics. He is also a popular radio talk show host, a top international debate coach, a master of ceremonies and a public speaker of note. He loves nothing more than a good argument, having been both former National South African Debate Champion and the 2011 World Masters Debate Champion. His analytic articles and columns have been widely published in South African newspapers and the New York Times. McKaiser has studied law and philosophy. He taught philosophy in South Africa and England.

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