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Let Professor Mayosi's death serve as a reminder that actions have consequences

The departure of Professor Bongani Mayosi leaves a deep wound felt by the faculty, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world. This is an open letter to the detractors of Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

Addressing the media on Sunday, July 29 and the UCT community on Monday, July 30, 2018, Professor Phakeng (Vice Chancellor and Director of UCT) hinted that Professor Mayosi's untimely departure may have been accelerated by student protests from 2015-17.

Responding to their comments, in social media and online, some sections of the student body – Rhodes University, Wits and UCT – tried to discredit Professor Phakeng with the premise that their statements were unfounded. Anticipating this criticism, UCT's vice-rector clearly stated that we must recognize the pressures faced by the institutional leaders of various sections of the university community, such as the council, the faculty, and the students. The words of Professor Phakeng inspired this critical reflection on the role of the intellectual in the contemporary South African university.

South Africans can not deny the opposite tide that academics / intellectuals face (d) when they dared to speak critically about the student protests of 2015-17. This moral repulsion came from students, progressive academics and social activists who, in my opinion, lost sight of the role of a higher education institution, which is defined as a space of criticality, reason and debate.

These characteristics of the university uphold the main foundations of innovative teaching, inclusive and multidimensional learning along with the development of inventive research. In addition, these main foundations of a higher education institution are, in the ideal context, protected, preserved and ordered by the sacrosanct pillars of academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

However, when reading the position of Professor Phakeng and considering the criticisms leveled against his scholarly opinion, I could not help but think of the concept of Pedagogy as Obligation; a concept abused by students who have become clients in the contemporary neoliberal university.

In reflecting on the concept of Pedagogy as an obligation, I must begin by stating that unlike basic education, higher education professionals – academics – are not limited by the ethics of pedagogy as described in the Code of Ethics Professional of the South African Council for Educators. This freedom puts foremost and protects the academic freedom and institutional autonomy that leaves space for intellectuals to carry out innovative research, free of obstacles and courageously defending political ideologies that can seek to direct the efforts of intellectuals, in line with the the spirit of the age.

to remind students, academics and the South African public in general why institutions of higher education fought so boldly to ensure these freedoms. It was in the resistance to the injustice of the rigidity and oppression of apartheid that the intellectuals fought for academic freedom. While I anticipate some objections from experts in ethics and other sectors of society that will remind me of the Manhattan Project and how these same principles of academic freedom were the ones that led to the tragedies of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, my answer is simple: knowledge is power and substantive justice lies in what we choose to do with that knowledge.

However, what about the concept of Pedagogy as Obligation? My exposition detailing the principles of academic freedom serves as a way to establish the context to consider the question in more detail. Due to academic freedom, the teaching staff is not committed to the students, since from a Socratic definition of the role of an academic, the first loyalty of the intellectuals is knowledge. From the position of academic freedom, the student body must ignore the erroneous concept that the teaching staff is employed by us.

Academic freedom suggests that teachers are first and foremost obliged to produce knowledge for the advancement of humanity, as evidenced in the work of Professor Mayosi. However, on a more elementary level, Professor Phakeng's suggestion that Mayosi's departure might have been accelerated by student protests inspires some critical questions that the client student should consider.

When the students, whom the academic / professor / lecturer deeply worries, in a frantic temper they call said academic an "exhausted", an "apologist of rape", a "coconut", a "collaborator" , how do you say academic to answer? When in the search for retributive justice, the student calls the academic " inja " due to his unseasoned intellectual position, which is justified by his inability to resolve the intellectual difference with reason and debate; What is the academic thing to do? When the student publishes his frantic temperamentality, he returns to the academic conference room and waits, as an obedient client does, to be attended by the academic, what resource does the intellectual have?

A misconception among the students of the contemporary South African university is based on our madness that equates the academic with a teacher. The professor professes knowledge due to his distinguished position in the intellectual community, the lectures of the professor informed by his disciplinary experience in his field of investigation. The teacher teaches from a position of Pedagogical Obligation, not academic. Confuses the teacher with the teacher that the contemporary student commits the categorical error of expecting an ethical obligation on the part of the teacher.

The departure of Professor Mayosi leaves a deep wound felt by teachers, not only in South Africa but throughout the world. While the scientific community laments the passing of a star researcher, academic and professor, I wish to invite the South African student body to carefully consider their role in the university and that of Professoriate.

I invite my colleagues to reflect critically on their position as students, as ours, when properly understood, is defined as a role of learning and broadening the frontiers of knowledge by taking the witness of the teaching staff and committing to the production of knowledge and innovation for the advancement of humanity.

The inopportune approval of Professor Mayosi is a constant reminder for the generation of "two minutes" that the actions have consequences while inspiring us to truly commit ourselves to the role of the university and our place in it; advocating the production of knowledge for the advancement of humanity. DM

Siseko H Kumalo is reading to obtain his Master of Philosophy at the University of Pretoria. He has a BSocSci Honors in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Rhodes.


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