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17 December 2017 16:07 (South Africa)
Opinionista Peter Flack

Threat to UCT Law School: Appeasement does not work in education or the workplace

  • Peter Flack
    Peter_Flack.jpg
    Peter Flack

    Peter Hamilton Flack is a South African lawyer, businessman and hunter. See his Wikipedia profile here.

There are only three basic courses of action – subject to minor variations – available to the Law School and University of Cape Town in response to the Council for Higher Education’s threat to remove UCT law school's accreditation.

I graduated from UCT law school in 1971. As memory serves me, 84 students registered for the course. Fourteen, or 17%, made it through to final year. All passed. I cannot remember any of the 70 who did not make it the first time round complaining.

Now the government (in the form of the Council for Higher Education), not satisfied with devastating any number of government departments, including almost every State-owned Enterprise, has turned its bureaucratic binoculars loose on universities and threatened to remove the accreditation from UCT’s law school for the crime of being the top-ranked law school on the continent and based on the untested accusations of a handful of self-serving individuals.

Logically, I would suggest that there are only three basic courses of action – subject to minor variations – available to the Law School and UCT.

First approach:

  • Continue to employ top lecturers, as far as possible, who provide a comprehensive legal education of a continuing standard which has made the Law School one of the top 100 law schools in the world, to students selected essentially on merit (who are all treated the same), and, when they graduate, are sought-after by law firms, the Bar and businesses and are in a position to contribute positively to society.
  • As and when the faceless Council for Higher Education removes the accreditation, take the decision on review to the courts – one of the few institutions the Zuma government has not been able to totally destroy despite their best efforts – on the basis that the decision is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have reached it, while continuing to provide top quality education.
  • In doing so, adopt the Zuma approach and take every in limine point possible and take every contrary decision against such points on appeal. That should wrap the council up for at least 10 years and, hopefully during this period its members will have been replaced by people with a basic understanding of education.

Second approach:

  • Ask the Council for Higher Education to nominate the lecturers, choose the curriculum, select the students, notify which of them should pass and what marks they should receive. This should guarantee that the council will be satisfied and will alleviate years of perpetual interference by them and pandering to their never satisfied whims as they change the goal posts from year to year. It will also guarantee that graduates of the Law School will be unemployable even by the council itself.
  • Alternatively, ask the students selected by the council what law degree they would like and what marks they would like to receive before they start the course and give it to them. That will save a whole lot of time, effort and money but end up with essentially the same end result.

Third approach:

  • Adopt the approach which created the problem in the first place: allow students entry to the Law School who should never have been admitted in the first place and then appease them when they demand accommodation, meals, transport, a non-colonial curriculum, different artwork in and outside the lecture halls, different names for the lecture halls, higher pass rates – preferably pass one pass all – etc., etc.

The Third Approach ultimately converts into the Second Approach over time and the university ceases to exist as a functioning institution of higher learning, certainly in the eyes of the rest of the world in general and South African employers in particular, thereby rendering worthless the “education” provided. Of course, both the second and third approach result very quickly in any lecturers worth their salt leaving and being replaced by those who cannot find a job elsewhere. It also results in a dearth of students other than those who have no alternative and fail to realise that the degree(s) they obtain are worthless and a waste of time, effort and money.

I remember that this was virtually the state of education in New York during the 1970s when I worked there for two years. As my memory serves me, you could pass through the state – as opposed to a private – system and come out with a degree, without passing an exam. If you attended a certain percentage of classes, you were passed on the duly performed system, regardless of how you fared in the exams. The janitor in the building where I worked in downtown New York had a degree from New York State University.

During the last year of my stay, a school leaving exam was introduced in New York to a huge hue and outcry because approximately 15% of the students failed the English and Maths multiple choice paper which, after reading it, I thought a reasonably intelligent South African schoolboy of 11 would have passed with ease. The exam was introduced essentially because no one placed any value on a New York State education any longer.

Appeasement does not work. It did not work for Chamberlain in his negotiations with Hitler before the outset of the Second World War. It does not work with your children and it does not work in the workplace.

Do we really want the same thing here? I for one would happily contribute to a legal fund to assist the Law School to defend itself and academic freedom against this outrageous and unwarranted attack and, speaking to other alumni, I know I am not alone. DM

  • Peter Flack
    Peter_Flack.jpg
    Peter Flack

    Peter Hamilton Flack is a South African lawyer, businessman and hunter. See his Wikipedia profile here.

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