Miscellany: change, corruption, universities

Miscellany: change, corruption, universities

A miscellany consists of a number of things which are not related other than having been brought together to be named as such. In archive research terms, ‘miscellaneous’ is formed by the archive box/es at the end, into which are put things which cannot be identified with any other source. And as previous blogs have explained, I find the miscellaneous category particularly interesting in archive research, because puzzling over these items raises many fascinating analytical and interpretive issues. There is also a version of this in the mind: the bits and pieces of things rattling around in our consciousness, not at the forefront, but somewhere towards the back like a low hum. This blog briefly comments on three miscellaneous items rattling around towards the back of my mind. [And for the record, at its forefront has been teaching and matters related to this.]

Last week’s blog ended with a ‘watch this space’ comment. What was promised was a discussion of positive markers of change in the knowledge economy and particularly the universities and how they approach matters of equality and diversity as connected with epistemology. Jonathan Jansen’s Knowledge book, which was the focus of discussion, indicates there are two main avenues for this. The first is change at very local levels by people who are highly motivated and make changes in the interstices of formal organisational practices. They just get on with it, and because this is relatively small-scale and interactional, they get away with it. The second is significant change in key administrative positions and establishing a positive framework involving motivated personnel who will see through change at structural levels in an organisation. Both are rarer than might be expected, although the first has greater longevity.

The most recent book published by Jansen is called Corruption and is both very good and makes for depressing reading. It is concerned with the slow rot produced by all manner of – major to minor – corrupt practices which have impacted on South African organisations and particularly many of its universities. He takes a political economy approach which fully recognises the unequal past history of the organisations concerned and the current context of each, both geographically and financially. The analysis throughout also recognises that universities are the locus of financial and other scarce resources in a locality, and have within their boundaries all manner of different workers and community members who vye with each other for these resources. It is essential reading for anyone interested in universities generally, as well as South Africa in particular. A notable strength is that it provides a framework for understanding political events surrounding the universities too.

The most recent eruption of troubles in the university sector is presently occurring at the University of Cape Town. This is in in fact a long running situation, of discord between Council, senior academics, and the vice chancellor. Student protests about grants and accommodation have erupted. And yesterday came the news of its current vice-chancellor departing with a multi-million Rand financial settlement to induce her out of post. This has been connected to her compliance with student disruptions, abrasive managerial style, and with lack of probity. Her Twitter feed, for example, encourages followers to buy a T-shirt she is wearing in a photograph, and the earrings she has on, both sponsorships. These are perhaps minor matters, but are connected with larger ones that are destructive of effective organisational life.

Corruption, Jensen comments, is so endemic that it has become what everybody does and seen by many as not really corruption at all. His data is plentiful and his analysis is convincing.

Last updated: 24 February 2023