Cape Town- Stellenbosch University must be a place where people can openly debate transformation and also feel welcome, Rector and Vice Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said at his inauguration on Wednesday.
“…There have been concerns raised around transformation, inclusivity and diversity, as well as our institutional culture and symbols on campus,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery.
There had also been comments around the language policy, which some people felt might exclude them.
De Villiers, 55, said that a “discussion without borders” or an “open debate”, which led to mutual understanding, was needed around transformation.
“Now, as doctor I can confirm that the circulatory system is absolutely essential! Similarly, if we cannot freely express what we have on our minds, and if we do not really listen to one another, the prognosis is not good.”
He had faith that the university was capable of such a debate.
Transformation could be thought of in two ways, he said.
“On the one hand, it relates to the need for change in response to South Africa’s history of racial discrimination and exclusion. On the other hand, transformation in education and research is an imperative to build the future we want…”
He believed the top South African university had taken an important step in 2000 when it formally acknowledged its contribution to the injustices of the past, and committed itself to redress and development.
De Villiers said the university had 762 black, coloured and Indian students in 1990.
Today, they total more than 11 200 students, or nearly 38%, of the student body.
“And we aim to advance this further over the next few years. I believe we can do it.”
De Villiers said 20% of academic staff were black, coloured or Indian and there was much room for improvement.
This included representation of women, especially at senior academic and management levels.
He believed the issue of language was complex and required careful deliberation.
The university had adopted a new language policy in November last year.
“The policy says the university is committed to Afrikaans as academic language, but also to English in the interest of accessibility, as well as the advancement of Xhosa, where feasible”.
He said the university was working to ensure language was not a barrier to access.
De Villiers is the university’s 12th rector and vice-chancellor and took office at the start of April.
He is a university alumnus and medical doctor who also studied and worked in England and America for 21 years before returning to the country two years ago.
His predecessor was Professor Russel Botman, who passed away in June last year.