For those of you who haven’t been keeping abreast of the recent student protests at UKZN (primarily around student funding, housing and fees), you may be interested to hear the latest development which is as sad as it is infuriating. On the 23rd of February four UKZN Masters’ students wrote an open letter to the Vice Chancellor Professor Makgoba criticising university policies and the VC himself. In response to the dissent, the UKZN Student Discipline Office has charged the four students with defamation and ordered them before the Student Discipline Court (see the list of disciplinary charges here).
I’ve just read the letter and while it is verbose, riddled with spelling mistakes and sounds a little like an ill-informed political-manifesto, it is certainly not defamation. It makes me furious to see the management at UKZN trying to intimidate these students into compliance and, presumably, discourage future dissent. This kind of knee-jerk response smacks of fragile egos and deep insecurities. Universities have always been a hot bed of critique and dissent being, as they are, a collection of intellectuals who usually understand the need for things like free-speech, critical thinking and dissent. Aside from the fact that UKZN’s approach here is morally repugnant and intellectually bankrupt, you also have to wonder, who on Earth is giving this University PR advice?! How did they think this was going to pan out? They presumably thought they were swatting a fly when in fact this strategy looks a lot more like the Dutch boy plugging holes in a breaking dyke, thinking somehow that this is a sustainable solution. Such a pity.
As someone who did their undergrad at UKZN I am a more than a little ashamed that an institution of “higher learning” would take such a thuggish approach to something as harmless as a wordy letter from some politically-ambitious students. It’s called “engagement”/”discussion”/”dialogue”, you should try it sometime…
Also see the Right2Know write-up here.