By Ciro De Siena
Professor Vivian de Klerk has been appointed to the position of Dean of Students at Rhodes
University. Currently the head of the department of English Language and Linguistics, Prof. de Klerk has assumed partial responsibilities as of the first of this month; with a full handover to occur on December 1. Her appointment marks the first ever female Deanship at the university. The post attracted 21 applications from across the country, which was then narrowed to six applicants, of which two were current staff members. The position itself has undergone an extensive reconstruction; essentially it has been split in two. While Prof. de Klerk will take on the Dean of Students position, Dr Iain L’ange, who is currently Assistant Dean of Students, and has been acting Dean of Students since Dr Moosa Motara’s retirement in June this year, will now fill the post of Director of Residential Operations.
“I really didn’t like the way the position was structured. It placed more emphasis on the practical aspects of the students’ lives, without much focus on the students themselves,” said de Klerk. Prof. de Klerk is a Grahamstonian and old Rhodian of exceptional experience and quality. Born in Grahamstown, she attended
School for Girls, and went on to study at
Rhodes, obtaining her BA with a Masters in Linguistics. Additionally her father served on the
Rhodes council. Newly married, her and her husband moved to
Johannesburg, where they lived for ten years before returning to Grahamstown in 1984. Prof de Klerk also currently sits on the Board of Residences and the Wardens Appointment Committee, and has been a fellow of Oriel Hall for 10 years now. She has an NRF rating for research, holding a doctorate in her area of research: sociolinguistics.
Prof. de Klerk is no stranger to student life, having seen her three children through their studies at
Rhodes, with all three going through the residence system and then staying in digs. She sees the relationship between the university and students as a partnership, both with their own responsibilities. The new Dean sees one of students’ greatest challenges as coping with the stress of tertiary education. “Young people are faced with so many choices, which can become risky if they make uniformed decisions,” says de Klerk, who adds that the university doesn’t have enough structures in place to help those who stumble.
De Klerk wants to develop and secure a “sense of community on campus”; where all students know that they have a space of their own. She hopes that this will go a long way to helping students cope. “There should be something here for every student, so that they get more than just a degree.” She feels that in particular Oppidan students are often forgotten, even though they constitute nearly 55% of the student body. “It’s just ineffective that the SRC only has one member representing Oppie students who make up the majority of the student body,” she said, adding that she would like to see that change. Interestingly, Prof de Klerk’s office will no longer be in the old admin building. Currently eyeing out the Student Union building for office space, she hopes to re-invigorate the building, and insists that there will be an Oppie dining hall, which staff will be encouraged to eat in as well.
De Klerk hopes to be a voice that admin will listen to, acknowledging that the students’ voice can sometimes be silenced by the university. “I know how
Rhodes works; and they know my voice,” she says. A confident personality, she describes herself as a fond mother, a keen tennis player, a lover of fiction and an avid wine-taster. “I don’t know everything about every wine, but I know what I like.”