Q: What have you achieved at Rhodes so far that affects the students?
A: Since I’ve started I’ve had to finalise the terms of reference for the appointment of the new dean of students. I was very happy that the way it had been refashioned was to focus on the development of students outside of teaching and research.
Another thing I’ve set into motion is a statement that has come out of my office which makes it absolutely clear that in a democratic society we have to start to learn to advance and protect rights. I refer to the alleged homophobic attack that happened in May before I came. I wasn’t very chuffed to have to read that on the front page of Grocott’s Mail. The constitution of this country protects everyone irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality. That incident shows a lack of understanding of rights and the fact that we have to defend rights in this country. More frightening is that if this happens again and a student was to be badly injured and end up in hospital, we are all culpable for having kept silent. Now I’d like to suggest if that had been a racist attack, all of you might have been up in arms. Perhaps because it was a homophobic attack we are a little hesitant because it doesn’t accord to our own views of sexual orientation. Let’s not fall into
the trap of only selectively opposing certain rights because once you start to be selective, it becomes a slippery slope. And I think that if I can inculcate
that way of thinking at Rhodes, then the entire institution and all of us will be better people for it.
Q: What role should students play in the university and what should their relationship with the institution be?
A: I’m firmly opposed to the idea that students are clients of a university. Those that think in that way don’t really know what education is all about. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a university. I would like to see students recognised as partners in an education process. I think this university offers a myriad of opportunities for student involvement. The kind of relationship that one needs to have with the university is what I would call critically supportive. You support the university where it is making and taking the right decisions. I don’t think you represent students effectively if you’re simply antagonistic for the sake of showing how radical you are. That’s not a meeting of minds and it actually undermines what a university is about.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job so far?
A: Heading the advisory body to the minister of education during the past seven years has had me thinking nationally, at the level of all universities. What’s been challenging is the idea of now thinking at the level of a single institution.
Q: What advice, if any, did Dr Woods give you?
A: I suppose it’s a kind of rule that when you meet the person who is taking over from you, you don’t give advice unless asked for it. It’s presumptuous.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t have an arrangement. Should I want to hear his views on something, he’s just a phone call away.
Q: What are your hobbies and nonacademic interests?
A: Golf and soccer. Reading, obviously. If I can get to the TV, which is not very often, then it’s really to watch CSI or Inspector Morse. Something where
you have to think about who did it, but without having to think too hard.
Q: Who is your favourite author? Do you have a favourite piece of literature?
A: Well, in my view, one of the finest pieces of literature is a trilogy on Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary. It was written by Isaac Deutscher. It’s
the most amazing three volumes.
Q: Do you have a favourite quote?
A: My favourite one is from a Jewish sage called Hillel. It simply goes: “If I’m not for myself, who will be, but if I’m only for myself what am I? If not
Q: We hear you’re qualified to coach English FA football. When in your life did you acquire this qualification and what made you decide to do so?
A: I did that when I was doing a PhD in England. I have had a ticket now for about 10 years, but I haven’t been able to use it. I got it because I’m passionate about soccer.
Q: What are your feelings about the World Cup 2010?
A: Very ambivalent. On the one hand, I like the idea of hosting the World Cup. I like the idea of being able to get to a World Cup game, but let’s see what the ticket prices are! There’s another part of me that thinks we are spending 10 hundred million rand on an event where the benefits may not be all that positive. We are putting public money into something, and the profits from those events really go to hotel groups and so on. I’m also concerned about stadiums that once built never get filled again – it has happened often.
Q: How have you and your family adjusted to Grahamstown?
A: I’m not here with my family. I have a son who’s in Matric this year so we quite sensibly didn’t want to affect his schooling. My partner, Shireen, will
move here at the end of the year.
Q: Will she be able to continue her work in Grahamstown?
A: She works for the body that regulates the Matric exams and is not likely to be able to continue that work in Grahamstown. She’s going to have to give up a well-paid job and her post when she moves here. She’s going to have to take her chance, like the partners of many others that come to Rhodes University. It’s a particular challenge for this university, which doesn’t exist for Wits or UCT. Job opportunities in Grahamstown are limited. There’s a challenge of how
to recruit and retain the really good academics if their partners are being asked to give up their jobs elsewhere.
Q: If you had to join a student society at Rhodes, which society would it be?
A: Amnesty International, because the world is a lousy place in many senses. Whether I was a journalism student or not, Activate, because I think that provides an exciting possibility for leadership, and then I would be in a member of a political student organisation.
Q: And what do you do in Grahamstown when you are not working? Have you ever set foot in the Rat & Parrot?
A: It’s early days and I haven’t had much time off. But in terms of socialising, people have been very kind. I have been to many people’s homes for dinners. I’ve had the opportunity to go to some restaurants, but mainly for work-related activities. I’ve braved the Rat & Parrot with some postgraduate students. When some of the Equilibrium people heard that I’d been to the Rat & Parrot, they invited me to come to Equilibrium next, so I will in due course.
Off the Point:
Q: If you had to sum yourself up in three words, what would they be?
A: Committed, considerate and disciplined.
Q: Which song do you think best describes your life?
A: “Stand up for Your Rights” by Bob Marley.
Q: What is your favourite ice-cream flavour?
Q: Would you rather invent a time machine or travel to a different galaxy?
A: Invent a time machine, because I’m fascinated by history.
Q: Which sauce could you have on almost any type of food?