My place in the sun!

One of the less attractive aspects of the merger of the Universities of Durban-Westville and Natal has been the depiction of some elderly white male academics as older male baboons, outcasts from the troop. In a similar vein they have been referred to as dinosaurs - relics from the past unable to participate in a meaningful manner in the present.

I am one such elderly white male. I also have a wooden carving of a baboon on top of my monitor. It is not there to remind me of who I am. Rather it is there to remind me of what I should not become. It was in fact a gift from my wife purchased during a trip to a conference in Botswana.

The merger of the afore mentioned universities resulted in the formation of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), an institution that markets itself as the Premier University of African Scholarship. I have no problem with that and sincerely hope it will succeed. I am a Computer Scientist and thus cannot make a direct contribution to African Scholarship whilst teaching the fundamental concepts and body of knowledge associated with Computer Science. This is just as true of any Computer Scientist teaching anywhere else in the world.

However, the students I have dealt with in the past, and continue to deal with now, are mostly African scholars. I remain dedicated to making a contribution to them and thus towards the broader goal of UKZN. After all, I too am an African and thus their well being and success will ultimately reflect on me. I also believe I have, in a sense, a debt to repay.

As a white South African male approaching retirement, I believe I have been privileged, both in terms of my gender and my skin colour. While I did not actively seek this out, I also did not do a great deal to rectify the situation once I had become aware of the injustices around me. My only defense would probably have to be based on it being in my nature to mostly do what needs doing, myself. This has, to a degree, tempered the extent to which I might have exploited others to better myself.

Returning to the elderly white male academics' inability to either adapt or contribute to the changes that the merger of the two universities has brought about, I would to like to make four points. These are of course my personal points of view.

The first is that this cohort is not without blame. It is always easier to criticize and so it would be highly unlikely that no criticism has taken place.

The second is that the rest of the university community accept that the elderly white male academics have a contribution to make, and that in some instances the contributions will be significant and at the highest level. In fact it seems that it is imperative that this happens at a National level in order to sustain the county's projected growth rate. If we cannot do it at UKZN, we will surely also fail at a national level.

The third point is that academics in Pietermaritzburg (PMB) have always had problems with the role the local campus plays within the context of the former University of Natal. While it could have been hoped that this would not be the case within the context of the newer University of KwaZulu-Natal, this was not likely to be the case. I say this as the PMB campus now represents a much smaller segment of a much larger organization. The eighty odd kilometers that separates the two centers is now probably more significant than ever.

The final point is that change for ex University of Natal staff now working at UKZN is nothing new. Prior to the merger they had just spent five years working through major structural and organizational changes. They did this to form schools consisting of cognately similar disciplines. Much the same process was repeated post the merger to form single discipline schools across all the campuses of UKZN. So with respect to the merger, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.

In conclusion, while it is always difficult to find fault with oneself, this needs to be done in order that we all learn from our mistakes. If we could do that, we could then all move on together in order to create a better UKZN, the Premier University of African Scholarship. For me, that would mean a place in the sun!