Update on the implementation of Wits’ Transformation Plan
- Wits University
The University announced an accelerated plan to advance transformation through a number of key strategies.
An update on the progress made in each of these areas follows below.
1. DIVERSIFYING THE ACADEMY
Following the approval of Senate and Council, a budget of R45 million to diversify the academy was earmarked and two committees were established to oversee the implementation of this strategy. The first committee is responsible for making appointments and allocating grants to enable African and Coloured staff to apply for promotion to the professoriate. The Transformation Steering Committee is responsible for monitoring progress on this front and for advising on policy and programmatic action.
To date, 19 appointments have been made to diversify the academy and 18 interviews are underway across faculties. In addition, 37 enabling grants totalling R6 million have been awarded to academics across the five faculties. The implementation of this strategy has been successful and we look forward towards completing it in the near future.
2. CURRICULUM REFORM
This component of the transformation plan has filtered through the University and Deans and Heads of Schools have reported progress to the Transformation Implementation Committee.
The Faculty of Health Sciences has held several workshops with outcomes that are currently being implemented.
The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment is addressing transformation in innovative ways through the introduction of additional classes, cross-disciplinary programmes, an internship year and short courses. The Faculty is also piloting a mechanism for students to immediately repeat failed courses and a programme with WitsPlus to allow working students to complete their Honours degrees part-time.
A substantial engagement was hosted by the Faculty of Humanities earlier this year. The discussions will continue within schools and departments. A detailed report has been produced by the Faculty with a list of programmes that will be implemented in each School. The Faculty has also undertaken a substantial survey to better understand its first year students.
All schools in the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management are engaged in discussions and revisions of the curriculum. For example, the new MBA programme in the Wits Business School significantly integrates local business challenges. The School of Economic and Business Sciences is working with other South African and African universities to develop an African-focused economics curriculum.
All staff and students are encouraged to work within their respective schools and disciplines to continuously assess and address the substantive content of all curricula to ensure that our academic programmes are transformative, innovative, relevant and appropriate, and that they speak to our national and continental issues and priorities.
3. LANGUAGE POLICY
The University’s Language Policy has been approved by Senate and Council and the executive team is developing a plan to resource its implementation. All official University letterheads are also being revised to reflect information in three languages – English, isiZulu and Sesotho.
4. INSTITUTIONAL NAMING
The Institutional Naming Committee has been expanded to include representatives from all stakeholders in the University, including students. The University’s Naming Policy has been revised and was approved by Senate and Council late last year. Three meetings of the new Committee have already taken place. The first and third were ordinary meetings, whilst the second was a special sitting to review proposals that were made in 2015 to rename buildings at Wits. However, as the policy was under review last year, the meeting was held over to 2016.
A call for proposals was issued for the renaming of the University's places and spaces and the Committee considered a number of proposals that were put forward. These included submissions to rename a building after Robert Sobukwe as well as a proposal to rename a building or space from names that celebrate, commemorate or are symbolic of struggles for gender equality or achievements. The Committee will apply its mind to these proposals at its next meeting. Several submissions to rename Senate House were also reviewed and the Naming Committee unanimously agreed that Senate House should be renamed Solomon Mahlangu House. Following consultation with various stakeholders, these recommendations were ratified by Council in 2016. A second call for proposals to rename buildings and spaces at Wits will be made in 2017, with a focus on naming after symbolic events and/or evocative descriptions of a particular place, and naming after women who have played key roles in academia.
The Insourcing Task Team (ITT), made up of representatives of workers, management, students and academics, holds regular meetings and is making significant progress. An update was circulated last week in this regard.
6. INSTITUTIONAL CULTURE
As part of transforming the institution, the Transformation and Employment Equity Office (TEEO) has rolled out four dialogue sessions to give the University community a platform to discuss pertinent issues and critically engage in a safe environment.
Topics covered so far are Eradicating racism, Decolonisation and Transformation, The intersectionality of queerness, race and gender, and The Politics of Intersectionality and Intrasectionality in Allyship. Most of the sessions were well attended and the University community enjoyed them. Videos of the sessions will be available online for viewing by early 2017. The TEEO will continue to hold these robust discussions to find solutions that will facilitate and influence an inclusive and empowering culture in the University.
The TEEO is in the advanced stage of rolling out the Focus Group sessions in order to facilitate discussions around the themes that emanated from the climate surveys. The rollout of these sessions is planned for 2017. The University community will be notified once the preparations have been concluded. The TEEO will formalise the mediation process and procedure as a preferred dispute mechanism on issues of conflict. The information on mediation is currently being uploaded to the TEEO website and will be ready to go live in early 2017. Furthermore, the TEEO is in the process of enhancing and strengthening the anti-discrimination policy so that it reflects the procedure and process on addressing issues of racism, and all forms of oppression that might be experienced as a crime against humanity.
An advisory committee will be formed to address issues raised and to decide on a proper sanction based on the misconduct. Once the policy has been enhanced, it will be circulated to the relevant structures for approval before its implemented.
The TEEO’s website is currently being revamped and will be available to the University community in early 2017.
7. PROMOTING A DIVERSE AND COSMOPOLITAN RESIDENCE LIFE EXPERIENCE
Two task teams were established last year to promote diversity in residences. The first was to explore the existing criteria for admission into residences and to make recommendations in this regard. This has been undertaken and new criteria are being drafted which will be circulated to stakeholders in the University community for comment.
The second team was jointly managed by the Transformation Office, the Student Affairs Division and the Gender Equity Office. The team was tasked with exploring the experiences of current students in residences. This is an ongoing process. The team, which consists of members from the Transformation Office, the Office of Student Affairs, the Gender Equity Office and Drama for Life are working on trans-divisional interventions to address some of the issues that emerged from the residence inquiry and a programme in this regard is underway.
8. ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION
Most constituencies in the University agree that free, fully funded, quality, decolonised higher education is possible and we are committed to finding effective measures to achieve this goal. A draft pledge was adopted by most constituencies in October this year.
Wits has also made a submission to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education Funding established by the President last year. Wits’ submission was made by Professor Hlonipha Mokoena from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, who chaired a panel that consulted with various Wits constituencies. The funding of students is not separate from the type of universities or higher education system that we want and in our case what kind of university Wits should be. In discussing the funding of students and universities, we will inevitably be addressing the larger and necessary question of a vision for the system and all institutions therein.
Transformation remains an imperative for the University and it is a process that should be owned by every individual in our respective capacities. We trust that through respectful engagement and a commitment to real transformation, we can emerge from these engagements stronger together.