By Jane Rosen
The term DP and Rhodes exist in symbiosis. In fact, those students who are a part of Rhodes University would agree that the one would probably not be able to exist without the other. From the day we arrived at Rhodes and were told about our lectures and tutorials, we also quickly became familiar with the term “DP refusal”. What is it about the dreaded DP that makes us shiver at the sound of the word and come near to cardiac arrest when we see anything resembling a brown envelope arrive in the mail?
As you know (and if you don’t, do you even have yours?) your DP (Duly Performed certificate) is what keeps you in the academic game. You get a yellow card, usually in the form of a written warning, when you are in the precarious position of losing yours. Threatening emails get sent to you and morbid brown envelopes arrive, demanding you to meet with your respective head of department. Negotiation becomes key at this point.
Eventually, you are left to defend your case or pack your cases and take another gap year.
Statistics reveal that only 22 percent of higher level students complete their undergraduate degree within the required study period, this according to Education Minister, Naledi Pandor. An analysis conducted in 2005 by the Department of Education recorded that out of 120 000 students who enrolled for their first degree in 2000, approximatley 30 percent dropped out within the first year. This has been shown to increase, with a further 20 percent of undergrad students dropping out during their second and third years of study.
Perhaps it makes sense then to have the DP system in place. Despite the stress that goes hand in hand with attempting to keep one’s DP, at least it aids in keeping us on track.
“We have a lot more freedom at university but if there weren’t these boundaries, like the DP, we would slack off,” said BJourn student, Lisa Bluett. “I agree that sometimes the requirements are unreasonable, but there are always ways to go about it. The head of departments are quite approachable.”
However, many students have claimed to have had a problem with the system. Different academic departments have different DP requirements, some requiring more from students than others. The Law department, for example, requires that students miss no more than five lectures a semester. This is strictly enforced and one’s DP is constantly on the line.
According to Dean of Humanities, Professor FT Hendricks, 791 first years, 49 second years and one fourth year student received exclusion warnings in June alone. “There are two reasons which the students gave me,” Hendricks said, “one is psychological reasons, and two, too many parties and they don’t get enough time to study”.
According to Professor Hendricks, first years are the ones who are most commonly at risk of being excluded. However, the University is willing to work with them in order to find a practical solution and students have the right to appeal to the Dean if they have valid reasons. Such reasons may inlcude health problems, excessive amounts of stress or even problems at home. Following appeal, the Dean of the relevant faculty will be able to assess the situation further and, subsequently, may even allow a candidate to be accepted again. First years are also often given the chance to complete at least their first year. This leaves room for them to improve on their academics and gives them a chance to properly earn their DP again.
“The policy is not to exclude first years in the first semester. If second or third year students are on school probation and fail to meet the requirements, then they get excluded, but first years get excluded at the end of the year,” added Hendricks.
The DP system, regardless of the important role it has to play in academic life, still needs to be assessed in terms of the fear it seems to instill in the hearts of many a student.
Warren Canning, a Fine Arts student said, “I think DP is a good and bad system in that it forces some people to attend lectures with a negative frame of mind. The system should encourage students to go to lectures with a positive attitude. It’s a university approach to the “demerit” in primary school.”
To avoid exclusion, one needs to pass at least two courses in first year to progress to second year. There were approximately six people who got excluded this year.
The Rhodes Vision and Mission Statement, formed in 2000, states that Rhodes “strives to be an outstanding, internationally respected academic institution which proudly affirms its African identity and which is committed to democratic ideals, academic freedom, rigorous scholarship, sound moral values and social responsibility”.
But how much “academic freedom” do we actually have if we are forced to go to certain lectures and attend most tutorials? At the same time, if you are at university and do not care to attend tutorials and lectures, then perhaps you need to ask yourself what you are doing here in the first place.