University of Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
University of Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Amid a fresh dispute on transformation at the University of Cape Town, the institution’s Black Academic Caucus (BAC) is seeking legal advice over the appointment of Lis Lange as deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning.

The BAC, which is a collective of black academics, says a more suitably qualified black candidate was overlooked in a procedurally flawed process.

The appointment comes at a critical time for the university, as it navigates pressure from students and academics to reform the curriculum in the wake of the Rhodes Must Fall protest movement. The 2015 Rhodes Must Fall protest began as a campaign to remove a prominent statue of Cecil John Rhodes from UCT’s campus, and led to a wider movement to "decolonise" education that drew global attention.

UCT is also in the process of selecting a successor to vice-chancellor Max Price, whose second five-year term ends on 30 June 2018. Two short-listed candidates — UCT deputy vice-chancellor for research Mamokgethi Phakeng the and University of the Western Cape deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs Vivienne Lawack — were interviewed last week.

The BAC held a lunch time picket at UCT to draw attention to its unhappiness about Lange’s appointment over that of UCT Professor Elelwani Ramugundo.

"I cannot see anything else but racism in this decision," said BAC committee member Adam Haupt, who was a member of the deputy vice-chancellor selection committee last year before it was re-constituted. Lange had the seniority, but not the expertise required for the position, he said.

"It need to be a suitably qualified person, and from our assessment of the documents available to us, Lange does not meet the requirements: she does not have extensive teaching experience in an academic environment," said BAC member Shose Kessi.

Ramugundo had the requisite teaching experience, and had been active in university debates about changing the curriculum, she said. "It seems to me she would have been the perfect person (for the job). She’s been at UCT for decades and is a product of (the institution)," said Kessi.

The deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning is one of four deputy vice-chancellor posts at UCT. That of transformation is held by Loretta Feris while Anton le Roex is acting deputy vice-chancellor for institutional innovation.

University spokesman Elijah Moholola said the BAC had not formally objected to any of the other appointments.