Tuesday, September 14, 2010

slow death of the intellectual

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All but one of South Africa's universities lack strong intellectual cultures on their campuses. True, there are sporadic bursts of what could be called intellectual activities or events, such as a memorial lecture here or a seminar there, but there is not a sustained, tangible and visible intellectual culture that characterises campus life.

By intellectual culture I do not simply mean some high-brow exercise in abstraction (though there is place for the abstract, the theoretical and the imaginary) detached from the pressing social and institutional problems that confront scholars and practitioners on campuses. I mean critical activities (film, drama, seminars, special lectures, open debates, musical performance, architectural display, critical dialogues, scholarly book launches, thoughtful protests -- more about this later -- and speakers) that together act to encourage, excite and evoke thoughtful discussion and deliberation.

An intellectual culture in this sense is a felt experience, not localised events in isolated parts of that campus. It is not busyness but quality activities that breed curiosity, creativity and dissent.

How did we get into this rut? The question presumes that at one stage such intellectual cultures existed on South African campuses. Not too long ago some of the most exciting debates and discussions were fuelled by the drama of the anti-apartheid struggle. A stirring lunchtime lecture on black theology by Allan Boesak at a cafeteria table at the University of the Western Cape or Jakes Gerwel's inaugural rector's address on "The three ideological orientations of South African campuses" would generate months of subsequent seminars and debates way beyond what the latter provocatively called "the home of the left".

The stirring addresses by Onkgoposte Tiro or Gessler Nkondo on the campus of the University of the North (now Limpopo) during that magical moment of Black Consciousness are legendary. But, with the anti-apartheid motif gone, there is no longer a higher appeal to organise, mobilise and cement intellectual cultures on campuses anywhere.

Fascinating debates

To date, the University of Cape Town, on its Rondebosch campus, is the only university that could be said to have an intellectual culture. Whether it was the fascinating debates on a core curriculum during the time of Mahmood Mamdani on that campus, the bitter debates on affirmative action led by David Benatar, a professor of law, or the more recent public standoff between Max Price, the principal, and Neville Alexander, a professor, on race-based admissions policies at that institution, it is a place boiling with intellectual foment as Nobel laureates and troublesome intellectuals criss-cross that campus regularly.

What is very interesting -- and this will offend some people -- is that in the distant past some of the most vibrant intellectual cultures existed on those campuses that were bulwarks of Afrikaner nationalism and, later, apartheid. The University of Stellenbosch, for example, had on its campus the likes of Hendrik Verwoerd, who were superb intellectuals -- if you froze for a moment questions about the troubling moral content of their racial messages.

We got into this rut because of a number of factors that together reduced many of our universities to degree machines and diploma mills. One reason was the creeping managerialism that turned the scholarship of teaching and inquiry into a parade of "measurable units" used by university bureaucracies to satisfy the constant demands for numerical accountability -- for outputs by the research office or administrative compliance with external regulations by the academic standards office.

I am not for a moment suggesting that performance or compliance are unimportant in the modern university. What I am suggesting is that these obligations became a mindless churn within institutions that reward the academic mechanic more than it does the thoughtful intellectual.


Another reason we are in this rut is because of poor leadership. More and more universities appoint people at senior levels of leadership who are ignorant of the purposes of the university and the threats to it. Slowly, universities have become places that have descended into endless confrontations between rival factions over all kinds of nonsense (the indecent salary of a vice-chancellor, the constant fight over leadership positions, the sleeping patterns of a lecturer, et cetera) that have absolutely nothing to do with the academic project.

As these confrontations repeat themselves, the leaders become preoccupied not with the academic mission of a university but with containing the embarrassing fires of discontent within their institutions -- a problem exacerbated by the fact that the leaders are themselves often part of these skirmishes.

Fixation with numbers

A third reason for the collapse of intellectual cultures on campuses has to do with the fixation with numbers to ensure financial survival in many universities. The more students are allowed to cram into lecture halls, the more academics are forced to engage in crowd control. But it is not simply that more students are crowding classes, it is also that academically weaker students started to enter campuses and classrooms. Academics were forced into a predominantly remedial stance in their teaching, killing the instinct to engage, provoke and deepen student learning beyond the transmission of the ubiquitous "notes" that define university life.

The other crucial reason for the demise or nonexistence of intellectual cultures has to do with the mass exit of serious scholars from university life. The sheer demand of work with low intellectual returns means that those who choose "the life of the mind" find the post-1994 university singularly unattractive. The cream of the crop has left for science councils like the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), only to find in time that the allure of research is replaced with the pressures of consultancy where your worth as a highly paid council employee turns on the extent to which you can generate the next multimillion-rand contract.

The gestation time needed for thinking deeply about research, theory and data is simply not there. Exhausted HSRC scholars find themselves trapped between high incomes in the science councils and low rewards in the public universities.

Others have made a straight break for the government or private sector and few have ever reconsidered the return to scholarly life. What universities are left with, in the main, are older academics too close to retirement to risk departure and younger academics too poorly qualified to risk losing the only job they have had.

Instead of intellectual cultures on our campuses we now have political cultures dominating the public space.

Students born after the end of apartheid have learned quickly how to mimic the language of struggle to make demands of institutions for material things — more money, better food, increased spending on student representative councils and the like. Student leaders constantly demand that no student should be excluded because of poor academic results. Often institutions cave in to such ridiculous demands, adding to the layers of mediocrity that ­sediment institutional life.

Of course, student demands are often legitimate and necessary, but the point here is a different one.

Student protest cultures

Student protest cultures about their personal needs are the only show in town. On some campuses these student protest cultures are spawned and sustained by their political parties outside, thereby bringing the toxic language and racial intolerance of these external agents on to university terrain.

These student protest cultures have no intellectual content or broader social reach on campus. For example, you seldom find students anywhere protesting about xenophobia in the townships, debating pirating in Somalia or holding sit-ins on land reform in Zimbabwe. But student behaviour takes its lead from professorial behaviour, resulting in a deadening of the mind in university life.

How do we get out of this? How do we create and sustain strong intellectual cultures on campuses? What can be done to restore the rich meanings of what it means to teach and learn in scholarly environments?

The task is a difficult one because building cultures is not the same thing as changing a curriculum or erecting a new lecture hall. Cultures, many would argue, should evolve "organically" from within institutional life. Yet university leadership, and here I especially include the senates, can steer an institution towards the attainment of vibrant intellectual cultures.

The first thing that should be done on every campus is to bring together a collective of like-minded academics and students to take charge of such a project to build strong and sustainable intellectual cultures. Like-minded people with strong academic profiles and ambitions can do this. It helps to have in such a collective people who have worked in universities in other places where the habits of the mind create vibrant intellectual cultures. In other words, it is difficult to build such cultures on campuses with academics socialised into a normative experience that is narrow, bureaucratic and deprived of intellectual curiosity and creative thought.

A vital next step is to ensure that the university leadership itself demonstrates its commitment to building such intellectual cultures. This requires money to bring top scholars to campuses on a regular basis, for example. But it also requires imagination -- such as the capacity to capitalise on compelling public problems (xenophobia, land reform, race-based admission policies or the global economic crisis) and turning them into compelling intellectual questions on campuses.

Another option is to build these cultures from the bottom up, within academic departments. This might mean appointing heads of department who understand and come from traditions within which vigorous academic debate and intellectual exchange are common. I have yet to see an advertisement or job description that makes the intellectual value and contribution of the candidate a prerequisite for appointment. If every academic department held weekly seminars in which members of that unit or its doctoral students shared their work in progress, significant progress would be made.

None of these things is possible without revisiting the undergraduate curriculum or, for that matter, the curriculum for residence life. The lack of a broadly liberal arts curriculum in virtually all the universities kills any signs of intellectual life on campus. Curriculum is content-heavy; teaching is transmission-based; examinations are ubiquitous. Sometimes I get the impression that on campuses there are more tests and examinations than there are thoughtful, inspiring and intellectually outrageous teaching sessions. In other words, there has to be a connection between the quality of intellectual life inside and outside the classroom.

The quality of the public discourse in the broader society will be determined in large part by the quality of the intellectual discourses on our campuses.

Professor Jonathan Jansen is vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State




intellectual culture


Jonathan Jansen


Prof Jansen, what a truthful article. I think a point missing though is that this days most young people don't go to universities in order to be engrossed in an intellectual culture. They go to universities because they see it as the best, if not only, way to ensure that they end up in a high paying job. In South Africa at the moment, its getting less excusable for any young person to not end up in a high paying job. You'll be interested to know that I attented U.C.T and to most of my fellow students what was most important was how much your first pay check was going to be... Mr Y on August 31, 2010, 8:48 am Mr Y right on spot but just to add that the greater threat to the intellectual culture that Prof Jansen talks about here is in fact the erosion of academic freedom through managerialism, 'politicisation' of the academic enterprise, as well as turning academics into degree manufacturing 'morons' of sorts. Being an academic I would say about 80% of the academic is now wasted on teaching and administrative processes that contribute nothing to the quality of education in South Africa. There is way too little thinking time, as the little time that remains is directed towards the mindless rat race of publishing to ensure you remain in the system. As for students once you take the approach of intellectual interogation the class looks bored to death and they do tell you they are not interested in anything else but getting a degree and getting money.I often here studnets complain a lot about the relevance of legal theory or juriprudence - what a lot! Nevertheless there are still students who bring intellectual vibe to lectures and engage with real issues. Post graduate students have just become the same as undergads and the doctoral studnets are literally insivible. Attendance at staff seminars/lectures are pathetic and some of the seminars are indeed time wasting renditions of mundane issues and there is a clear avoidance of hot issues of the day by academics, lest you become a racist, an apologists for this or that, or simple an academic idiot perceived to be living in 18th century Oxford. Johanne Masadza on August 31, 2010, 9:30 am Well said Prof. Unfortunately the trend will continue until such time that we respect each other for being fellow human beings not because of material possessions. These times of Khulubuses and like-minded people who can buy you expensive drinks does not not encourage that culture. Young stars are afraid to strive for education and be poor. They have learnt there are shortcuts from the leaders of today.The society knows it does not help much to have a PhD and not be able to afford a decent house. We need a need to deal with a culture of materialism and encourage high morals and value good ideas. Like you, Prof, I lament the death of intellectual culture. Gilbert Mosupye on August 31, 2010, 9:33 am As long as it is forbidden, yes forbidden, to discuss any possible general psychological or mental differences between different groups and/or cultures, then your wish will stay just that, a dream. The reason that the situation is as you describe is because there are DIFFERENCES that no-one will acknowledge and that will thus forever stand between success and failure in the workplace, university, government and country. The WORLD understands these differences but they don't exist in South Africa? You can't solve a problem until you acknowledge that it exists, and you, Professor Jansen, as much as I admire your intellectualism, are in a state of denial. Graham Johnson on August 31, 2010, 9:35 am All true but you skirt around the role of race, particularly race hatred, in the decline. Why were university senates deprived of their former powers? To improve management structures is the official reason but the reality is that the replacement management structures were black while the senates they sidelined had a white majority. Some of the blacks appointed were appointed as a reward for their role in the struggle, which typically involved traumatic experiences in South Africa and then exile, with study overseas, nursing a grievance against whites which festered. And boy, when they got their hands on the sjambok, did they wield it. Being a white university associate professor in your late 30s or early 40s in the early 2000s was not a pleasant experience, and most left, preferring to start again as a junior lecturer in an obscure agricultural university in New Zealand or where-ever than put up with the endless carping, committees of discipline, compulsory course content censorship etc they were expected to swallow. It was so unnecessary too. True the white academics who stood up and were prepared to suffer opposing the apartheid regime were relatively few in number but that does not mean the rest were rabid racists. Good luck in trying to turn the tide -- let us all hope South African universities do not end up like the sad shipwrecks of former ambition you see in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria -- the list is long. John Patson on August 31, 2010, 9:48 am Prof Jansen, let me start by saying that as a post-graduate student I agree with everything you say apart from one point. I couldn't agree more that universities in this country are only focused on pumping out as many undergraduates as possible and that undergraduates are, for the most part, only to happy to be spoon fed enough to pass and move into a 'real life'.Any broadening of the mind past what's written in the textbook is very rare. Post graduate study is also less and less attractive as it near on impossible to support yourself on the busaries provided.

The one thing I do disagree on is the 'intellectual culture' at UCT. I have studied at both UP and UCT and in my opinion UCT is very limited in what they try to expand their students miinds on. It is a very political campus, in terms of science, art, language I have found that TUKS offers a much greater oppotunity to learn. I'm not saying that UCT focus is unwarranted I think all universities should encourage political awareness the way UCT does. I just think that there is more to Intellectual cuture than that. helen walsh on August 31, 2010, 10:00 am By this tangential approach to what is a racial issue, the good professor vindicates his own position. The much-mentioned "race debate" will never really be possible because one side must violate the constitution. So we all walk this tightrope using buckets of bullshit to balance ourselves.

Meanwhile the insanity of skin-based transformation has saddled this country with more of what apartheid delivered; a large unskilled population led by a herd of non-intellectual professionals with dubious morals and credentials.

Post-Polokwane SA has shown that non-conformance will result in being cut from the herd. I hope Prof Jansen survives this act of bravery.

Clifford Dean on August 31, 2010, 10:50 am Intriguing. I left a non-threatening comment that should have led to intellectual debate and it was deleted. So much for Prof Jansens' dreams. Only if it accords with ANC-think is it allowed to be 'discussed'. Graham Johnson on August 31, 2010, 11:10 am Perhaps the dearth of intellectual debate is largely due to the insistence on forcing South African reality into the Fanon et al mould. As a topic of inquiry it is as sterile as the doctoral thesis of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Wim Kotze on August 31, 2010, 11:13 am White intellectuals are excluded from any debate unless they merely parrot what a black intellectual has said first in order to validate it. Whites are only expected to cheer and boo from the side-lines and to leave the playing field open only to the darker folk. Why even bother? It's futile. It's, frankly, offensively racist. Atlas Reader on August 31, 2010, 2:40 pm I think the observation that Academia has been encrouched upon by political sensitivities is most apt. Democracy has nothing to do with love of knowledge, it is a political form of government not a method of producing knowledge or cultivating a rigorous intellectual culture. Having said that it should be affirmed that Universities are at their core elitist institutions where the best minds are supposed to converge to produce and understand knowledge and its place in society. The end is knowledge, not preparing students for the job "market!" The market itself should be called into question. A University should strive to be a meta-societal intitution that does not prepare students to be plugged into society, but to question that society and thus better it. I think the core problem is that people misunderstand this raison d'etre. They are too firmly imbedded in a market or political ideology to see the wood for the trees. Yaseen Lagardien on August 31, 2010, 3:01 pm Things have not changed in the academic world of south africa, so nothign to get excited about. I studied in 1980, and even then it was a known fact that each university had their 'thought leaders', your little cliches, if you thought any different to those 'mainstream' clubs you were quickly out in the cold. There are many ways to get your point across though, and they do not always need a rigorous academic platform. white trash on August 31, 2010, 3:39 pm In essence Dr Jansen, you are perfectly correct. Universities have become exactly that - Degree machines, and this is why I feel their time has come and gone. If one looks at why universities were established in the first place - a place where you could learn that which could not be sourced anywhere else - this position has almost been usurped by the Internet. Think of the mavericks Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin)and numerous others: They all dropped out, because universities could not deliver the stimulation they sought at the pace at which the world was moving. And areas of intellectual debate? It buzzing in the blogosphere every single second. Perhaps, its not time to look back, but too look forward, and drag universities kicking and screaming into the new world.

And on the internet, your face does not matter, only your mind. Crome Dome on August 31, 2010, 3:53 pm I studied at UCT, but I'm now working at UP.As I love studying, I decided to take some of UP's courses. I am now in a position to truly appreciate Jansen's lament at the decline of an intellectual culture. Studying at UP thus far has been decidedly anti-intellectual, in comparison with my experience at UCT. The courses I'm doing seem geared towards getting the credits that will amount to a degree rather than learning anything or debating knowledge. The worst example thus far is having to write an essay on a topic that even the lecturer admits has nothing to do with the coursework. It is merely a means of getting the marks required to pass. Another case is having one, very dated, very narrow-minded book as the only prescribed reading for a subject on which there are many conflicting viewpoints.

I was appalled, but when discussing this with people from UP, the attitude seems to be that this is just the way it is, and for me to expect a higher academic standard is simply too idealistic. Lauren Smith on August 31, 2010, 4:18 pm If it is so that the standard of debate has deteriorated over time then it has more to do with the entry-level of university students being lowered than that the university themselves are responsible for not creating a proper environment for intellectual debate. white trash on August 31, 2010, 5:01 pm It seems that Caleb Stegall's 'Necessary Noble Fiction' is the byword of the ANC and all debate on the subject is thus stifled. Sadly, THEY are the weakest link, goodbye. Graham Johnson on August 31, 2010, 5:01 pm What has happened in the last two decades or so (internationally) is that the loyalty structure in universities has been turned upside down. Previously there was a collegial ideal (even if not always attained) in terms of which dept heads, deans, VCs, essentially represented staff interests to society. There was a kind of concordat with universities and society in terms of which universities could more or less do their own thing, and society trusted that the broad outcome would be for the common good. That is what academic freedom was meant to be.

Collegiality has been replaced by manegerialism. The hierarchy (vc's / deans / HoDs) is now the agent of society and has to dance to the tune of the state in order to ensure funding. Trust and collegiality has been lost. Funding is predicated on formulae which massively influence the structure of courses (especially at post grad level), the numbers of students in different programs, the pass rate, the type of journals in which to publish, etc.

Thus, performance has to be assessed, forms have to be signed and counter-signed, committees have to take decisions. Staff are no longer be allowed the slightest discretion (not even professors), whether in respect of expenditure, appointment of external examiners, grading procedures, etc. All is subject to process, scrutiny and approval up a chain of command, with no real mechanisms for appeal, debate or interaction.

As a result, highly gifted and intelligent people are treated as common labourers, they are subjected to processes predicated on mistrust and uniformity, and they are supposed to respond to infantile reward/punishment systems. Competitions are set up to establish the best "researchers" with trickle-down financial rewards and little certificates of merit for the winners. The atmosphere is one of fear and dominance, rather than debate, collegiality and engagement. No wonder a sterile intellectual atmosphere has set in. It will take a thought-revolution to change things, and there do not appear to be any signs of change in the air.

No wonder talented youngsters are slow to join universities. I would caution any talented young person to think very carefully before doing so. chico chico on August 31, 2010, 5:26 pm Could also be that since about 20 years ago we have coined the phrase 'entrepeneur' where one is being taught to be both labourer and manager in order to create your own business and become a big success. This is ignoring the fact that many people would rather work than manage, and others would rather manage than work, and a miniscule amount of people are talented enough to do both at the same time. white trash on August 31, 2010, 6:13 pm I am of the opinion that an intellectual culture never settled as part of ANY South African university. There is evidence of spirited periods throught the county and indeed in most universities; of stimulating intellectual debate. Alas far more centered around political activism, ect ect ect, maybe because of our history?

We did not get the opportunity to build quantum physics from thin air or participate on the west vs east cultural stand-off.

I think our problem is more fundimental....i am going to make a clear and unambigous accusation: South Africa as a country does not value intellectuals or intellectual participation.I think most view these as novelties.

Here is a quiz for dummies (tyring to drive a point across)...without thinking too much name ten major street names in any town or city in South Africa?

Of the twenty you have named how many are named after scientist; novelists; economical pioneers? I bet R20-00; they are less than 8%. Most on your list are political icons ect ect ect.

I know thinking about numbers or sub-atomic particles can not feed me. However; in time these oddities can feed all of us; protect all of us and make all of us live longer.

I know money is short here at home but we need to start thinking seriously about creating a strong and sustainable culture of inquisition. Knowledge for knowledge's sake. Science for science's sake. If a candidate wants to review Pi; let there be funds for him or her to do so. And let there be an environment for that candidate to associte and liase with anybody in all the places of learning.

Higher learning in most institutions is sadly mostly mechanical (come in go out kind of attitude) but this does not have to be so. There are plenty of opportunities to explore beyond your syllabus. At the moment, the spirit of the true dreamers is unfortunately under attack.

It will be truely sad to see the wheel re-invented over there and being imported once more in the next century here at home. musa makhoba on August 31, 2010, 11:07 pm This is all sadly true. The leading motifs, images, for the nation at present are corporate and managerial - CEOs instead of Town Clerks, stakeholders instead of interest groups, and if you talk to anybody about the franchise, they'll ask you what's the product! FIFA WC was nothing but a huge expensive corporate event.

I resigned my senior university post out of weariness at the massive and increasing managerialism; the dumbing down of curricula; the impossibility of real intellectual engagement with students who have poor schooling; and the political correctness of much that is taught, researched, and discussed. I took a risk but it is a risk I live with, and I am free to read, write, and set my own research agenda. Shaman Sans Frontieres on September 1, 2010, 1:16 am Thank you, again, Professor Jansen for speaking out. However, you may now need 'bodyguards' as the ANCYL long knives will be out to get you.

Intellect and anti-intellect have always been with us. Universities were established before the "Industrial Revolution" when literacy even rarer than it is here (in SA). Scholars were usually impoverished and the process of learning had no deadlines. It took as long as it took to educate oneself to the level of older scholars and to be able to carry their work further. As 'trade' grew and a small affluent class developed scholars were able to travel further and spend time studying the holdings of other universities in more distant cities. Learning and a culture of intellectual enquiry spread. There were still no 'deadlines', no end point at which 'learning' was thought to be finished. Learning was a way of life and when one had demonstrated distinction amongst one's peers, one might be asked to teach younger scholars Rory Quinn on September 1, 2010, 11:05 am David Benatar is a professor of philosophy, not law. Returned Exile on September 1, 2010, 11:17 am The death of the thinking man in SA is drawing ever closer. Steve van Niekerk on September 1, 2010, 11:34 am Sorry, I must have hit a wrong button.

The point of the whole enterprise was to enlarge and, through debate and critical thought, to refine the body of knowledge. Scholars were not universally respected and some were tortured and burnt to death during the Inquisition.

There has always been tension between those who sought to know truth through the work of the mind and those who settled for some form of dogma. The dogmatists see intellectuals as a threat to them and to the authority they wield.

Today, it is the tension between the intellectual life and commercial life. The transformation of the universities from 'citadels of learning' into degree machines reflects a deep mis-understanding of the purpose of the university.

Most parents do NOT want their children to be EDUCATED; they want them to be EMPLOYABLE. For most parents, the 'degree' is what is important, not the process of learning. The 'degree' has become a commodity and once they have this commodity, the students must get out there and 'sell' themselves.

What an odious concept! It has become so much a part of public life that it no longer rouses distaste to 'sell' oneself. This mind-set has turned students into 'products' churned out by universities. And the universities are rated on the basis of how many graduates go straight into jobs. Even the funding for universities is based on which 'programmes' turn out the most employable grads. Corporatising the university has made it the slave of commercial interests and reduced graduates to statistics.

The intellectual enterprise does not create "products", it stimulates thinking and provides the environment for the incubation and evaluation of ideas. Ideas are invisible, yet every aspect of human life developed from an idea. Not all ideas are capable of being expressed as 'things' and those ideas are valued least of all.

Students who see university as a meal ticket or a 'status' symbol are not there to learn. They are there to get a piece of paper in exchange for showing up. The process of tertiary education is wasted on them and they gravitate toward programmes with utilitarian rather than speculative merit.

It is time to re-think what John Henry Newman termed "The Idea of the University" and decide what we as a society want: thinking people like Professor Jansen, Moeletsi Mbeki, Bert Olivier, etc., dogmatists like the current leaders of the ANC, 'tenderpreneurs' like Julius Malema, K. Zuma, and even Madiba's grandson.

The university is not and should never be an instrument of state or commerce. Separate the functions and don't bemoan the antagonism the between 'town and gown'--it's not all bad.

Rory Quinn on September 1, 2010, 11:48 am Prof. jansen, your article is making rounds in Malawian academic circles, at chancellor College. there Are tired people who want to make the last retirement buck before leaving the academy and some of them are bringing back dictatorship approaches and the culture of academia is very far from them. they have not published anything in the last ten years and the conferences they go to are workshops for funding. it is a pity because chancellor College was viewed as 'the' academy amongst the five consituent colleges of the university of Malawi. Now we have a former Banda special branch informer as a Principal and any comment is regarded as undermining his authority. Cry the beloved African University. Chimwala Guta on September 1, 2010, 12:32 pm This era called which is wrongly termed "information age" should have instead been indeed called "data age". It is a about capturing, not synthesising, plagiarising insteading proliferating.

Students at this epoch are engulfed in "petty-cash-talks" and "purse-intellectualism".These are days of "I am not available right now, please leave a message and phone number, I will get back to ou as soon as I can". It is also an era where you just peak a form with further analysis and "inform". There is no diplomacy in our approaches. no distillation of messages. This business modelled transactional type of communication epitomises the period in life when we plagiarise instease of proliferate; we sympathise rather than synthesise; we inform rathern be inform; we do the actual re-search instead of doing research. The era of dogged determination to distill dogmatism and wroshipping of 'isms' have come to an end. It is a peak and go era. There is no sense of grounding. Perhaps, in Xhosa one can say "it had to be had it not been it would not have been" (bekumele ukuba bekungenjalo bekungasayikulunga). Thembinkosi Mtonjeni on September 1, 2010, 1:20 pm Thank you Thembinkosi and Rory and Chico Chico. Absolutely. Thembinkosi, I don't think it's so much a distinction between 'determination to distill dogmatism' nd 'peak and go'. Beside these I'd want it to be about conversation, time (as you imply), careful and wide reading, open dicussion.

At the elite old universities students did not 'study' a subject. They 'read' it. Maybe a euphemism, but it points to what counts.

Now we are told to set 'outcomes' for SAQA before even teaching a course, and to ensure 'throughput' for the sake of state subsidies, and as someone pointed out above, the 'collegium', the age-old consensus among professors and students, is now reduced to a body of service providers and clients that is overseen by an Executive Dean who is often parachuted in.

But as someone else pointed out, epochs come and go. In the eighteenth century, Oxford University was in dire straits with sherry-drinking peudo clerics making merry and little serious reflection or teaching happening. The spirit of the age comes and goes, and we change with it. Shaman Sans Frontieres on September 1, 2010, 1:43 pm A very good point raised by the prof but I don't think anything will change soon under ANCification of education - in most faculties, especially the sciences, universities already have rather mediocre staff. Some departments have been so "transformed" that they no longer represent the ethnic diversity of SA and it is no longer worthwhile to pursue post graduate studies in them although they provided world standard education in the past; that is if you want a quality degree and are concerned about the inevitable discrimination.

Nevertheless, I prefer dumb nuts with some tertiary education than ones without. George S on September 1, 2010, 2:19 pm Well said @Rory Qiunn. musa makhoba on September 1, 2010, 4:26 pm So sad that once thriving universities that trained the likes of Nelson Mandela are now passing illiterate, inumerate half-wits as 'graduates'. No wonder the world laughs off our 'qualifications'. Graham Johnson on September 1, 2010, 4:41 pm Very few truer words have been spoken Prof Jansen.

Although I'm an intellectual, turned "corporate hustler" (ie. consultant), I do fear that money and power rather than knowledge and wisdom are the main motivators behind tomorrow's alumni and political leaders.

Looking at SA from the UK gives your argument some sharp teeth.

Let's use some of the UK's most prominent leaders as an example. Many have gone through sought after schools and universities (Eton College, moving on to Oxford or Cambridge). Their tenure at these institutions were usually characterised by challenging the status quo. Asking "Why" rather than just accepting the norm. Looking for ways to help other before helping themselves.

Back to SA: look at some of the most prominent (political) figures in (recent) SA history: Tambo, Sisulu, Mandela, Verwoerd, Malan. Not all popular, but all highly qualified, well read and quite intellectual.

I'm no carpenter or wood work expert, but if you ask me - I'd rather follow a man (or woman) who has the ability to create rather than destroy. To innovate rather than copy. To debate with reason rather than demand without resonance.

Sadly, the wise and weatherproof intellectuals of SA are fast dwindling. Saffa Expat on September 1, 2010, 5:31 pm Graham Johnson, your racism shines through, atlas reader you are truly sad. dermot o reilly on September 1, 2010, 5:57 pm To the indigenous African (African), colonial education was introduced as the only means to a 'good' life, i.e a good paying job. It never was an intellectual endeavor. Intellectualism existed in the villages at traditional (Kangaroo) courts, in debates on the conflicting cultures of the conquered and the conquror, social commentry thru music, protest and praise poetry. The African never viewed colonial education and its institutions as places for intellectualism. Neither was it considered as a possible extension of the African intellectualism. In the ensuing battle between colonial and African intellectualism, the one of the conqueror prevailed. The African intellectual is nothing but a very pale shadow of the colonial intellectual he/she immitates. It is true to this day. Robert Mugabe on September 2, 2010, 1:41 am As always, Dr. Jansen provides us with some thoughtful (and honest) insights into the challenges facing higher education in South Africa today, insights that are informed by a wealth of experience. But as a South African graduate student at a major US institution (and who is still excited at the prospect of returning to South Africa), I was concerned about the decline narrative that is implicit in his argument (were South African universities necessarily more critical venues), a narrative which seems to pervade South African discourse, and which I think doesn't entirely contextualize the nature of the problems we currently face. More importantly, I am wary of the elitist implications of some of his critique - after all, is remediating (or assisting) struggling students necessarily anti-intellectual work? And aren't the problems he has identified a vital starting point for focusing critical attention on possible solutions?

I completely agree with his argument about the dangers of managerialism, dangers that have also crept into US universities and which threaten to commoditize education. But that is just the point - these problems are not unique to South Africa, and I struggle to engage my extremely well-educated American students to see the value in looking beyond the getting through school as quickly as possible so that they can jump into the business world (a business world that currently isn't offering them the opportunities they had envisaged). Still, despite my concerns with their unwillingness to take up my challenge to think big, they have helped me to recognize that my intellectual aspirations can't come at the expense of their educational goals - they are in higher education to get suitable qualification, and it is my responsibility to find a way to marry both their ambitions and mine.

In short, although I am convinced by some of Dr. Jansen's argument, I am not entirely sure if he has adequately interpreted all the causes, which has important implications for the kind of solutions we propose. For instance, it my experience that the unwillingness for South Africans to engage in debate (a problem which has repeatedly itself in South African politics) is a reflection of a broader cultural insensibility that has much to do with the complex history of our country. Therefore, this is not a political problem, but a cultural problem, one that requires us to rethink the nature and purpose of debate (this is belief that increasingly confirmed to me when I see the tone of comments written in repsonse to editorials such as this one).

Despite our many problems, I think there are South African educators tackling these problems in a creative ways, thereby forcing us to rethink was intellectualism means. And based on the work I have read read by South African scholars from our major universities, I think there is much to be optimistic about - we have some very impressive public intellectuals.

Thank you Dr. Jansen for a necessarily provocative editorial.

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