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29 January 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Francis Petersen speech
“We can create an institution that operates and lives in the times of embracing and celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence by ensuring that students own their time at university,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

25 January 2019 marked the official welcoming of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) first-year students, as they moved into their respective residences and were warmly welcomed on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. This day also marked the start of the registration process for first-year students.

According to first-year Psychology student Keisha Claasen, who moved into her residence earlier on 25 January, her first experience of the UFS was daunting but exciting, as she had never been in a similar environment. According to Given Gwerera, who dropped his son off at the Karee residence earlier the day, “the UFS is an institution with great culture and an overall good academic record.” He further explained that he trusts his son to make full use of the opportunities presented to him, as he has a cool head on his shoulders.

On the evening of 25 January, an eager group of millennials, joined by their parents, took the first sip from their cup of varsity life as they assembled on the Red Square of the Bloemfontein Campus to meet the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, members of Rectorate, the deans of all faculties, and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the UFS.

“2019 will be a year of continued change; the UFS is thrilled about the prospect of bringing about opportunities for adaptation and realignment to the future,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

He further explained that the university prides itself in moulding its students into well-rounded individuals who will develop into globally competitive graduates as required in a diversity of landscapes. Prof Petersen urged first-years to remain open to the technological developments that go with globalisation, because of its permanent effects on society today.

First-years were further advised to take advantage of the rich pool of academic research and knowledge that is characteristic of the university and is piloted by UFS scholars, by engaging with and learning from them.

The inspiring night concluded on a colourful note, as the audience enjoyed an artistic laser show in front of the Main Building. Caption:

“UFS academics conduct research that forces the world to take note,” said Prof Francis Petersen at the official first-year welcoming ceremony on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

News Archive

UFS Official opening - Address by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Frederick Fourie
2007-02-02

2003: Continuity and change, scholarship and community, quality and equity

2004: From good to great: firming up the foundations for a great, robust university – for the next 100 years
 
2005: The UFS towards 2010: Sustaining change, innovation, renewal and transformation
 
2006: Ever better: enhancing the quality of scholarship through innovation and critical reflection

2007: Beyond redress: Towards the ‘promised land’ of a high quality, equitable, non-racial and non-sexist university

 Address by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Frederick Fourie, at the Official Opening of the University of the Free State (UFS), Friday 2 February 2007
 
Today’s opening address will focus on an important new document in the current history of this institution, i.e. a draft Institutional Charter. This document, which takes the brave step of reaching into the future to try to spell out the end goal of redress and transformation – the outlines and principles of a world class, high quality, equitable, non-racial and non-sexist university – is the culmination of various processes which started in 2003 (and which builds on earlier processes, of course).
 
Today’s story revolves around two interrelated themes: The “Academic Project” and the “Transformation Project”. (Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, since our understanding of transformation explicitly encompasses the academic enterprise … see below.)
 
It also is about gowns and blankets, and about a promised land.

1. The year 2006: a partial report back

So let me start with the academic project and some reflections on the ‘state of the university’, on what we have achieved during the past year or two.
 
1.1 Quality Assurance Audit panel report
 
My 2006 Opening Speech was devoted to the issue of quality. This was primarily in the light of the approaching Institutional Quality Audit by the Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council on Higher Education. 
 
This audit of the quality assurance systems at the UFS was done in October 2006 by an audit panel of the Higher Education Quality Committee. Their main task was to establish whether the UFS has policies and procedures in place that ensure quality in everything we do as a university. We provided them with documentary evidence of such policies and procedures which the panel duly studied.
 
This evidence was then tested and verified during a weeklong visit to the campus during which interviews were conducted with hundreds of staff, students, alumni, Council members, business representatives, and government officials, among others.
 
A comprehensive written report on the outcome of the quality audit is still to be completed by the panel. However, in their verbal feedback immediately after their weeklong visit to the campus, the panel indicated that there were no serious quality risks or quality gaps in the core business of the university, namely teaching and learning, research and community service. They also complemented the University on several of its transformation initiatives, including its parallel-medium policy.
 
Of course there are some areas that may require attention, but these are areas which the university is aware of and which we are attending to already – as befits a university that is serious about quality.
 
The findings of the audit panel are very heartening indeed as it supports and validates our efforts and the progress we have made in building a robust, high quality university.
 
1.2 The Strategic Cluster initiative
 
Another aspect of our quality drive is the Strategic Clusters initiative which was formally announced at the Opening of the UFS a year ago. It represents a strategic initiative to focus our energies in a few key areas, investing in them for the UFS to become an international leader in those fields. It is imperative for the UFS to position itself, in its next phase of its development, not only as a ‘good’ teaching and research university, but as an institution that truly excels in certain strategic areas (‘clusters’) of research and knowledge – whilst continuing to provide firm general support for teaching and research excellence across the many disciplines.
 
A medium-sized university such as the UFS with relatively limited human, physical and financial resources has to achieve this kind of ‘critical mass’ and synergy to establish itself as a world leader in these particular clusters (in terms of its core functions of teaching/learning, research and community engagement).
 
Five clusters were mentioned initially. Following extensive workshops and consultation, the following six clusters are now in the process of being refined and finalised (inter alia via open campus debate):
  1. Water Management in Water-scarce Areas
  2. New Frontiers in Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development
  3. Social Transformation in Diverse Societies
  4. Ecologically Sound Value Chains for Agricultural Commodities
  5. Materials and Nano Sciences
  6. Advanced Bio-molecular Systems.
(Most of these specifically include the South African and African context.)
 
Within the context of the Strategic Clusters, eight Research Niche Areas (RNAs) were submitted to the National Research Foundation (NRF). All eight were approved – the highest number approved at any university.

 Within these eight Research Niche Areas, 25 research proposals were submitted at the end of 2006. Twenty-four (24) of these proposals were successful, representing a total commitment of nearly R30 million from the NRF over the next four years.

Linked to the Strategic Clusters, five proposals for the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARCHi) were submitted. All five pre-proposals were accepted in the first round of screening, and successful candidates have been invited to submit full proposals by the end of February.  Another science council has also approached us regarding a sixth Research Chair.
 
Capacity building and the development of young and emerging researchers, especially from the designated groups, are proceeding briskly. The number of ThuthukaGrantholders has increased from 23 in 2006 to 45 in 2007, representing total funding of more than R5m.
 
Incentives based on the Research Turnaround Strategy to increase the accredited publication output, has been highly successful, with a further increase in the number of accredited publication units expected in the final 2006 tally.
 
At the end of last year the UFS was identified, in an international academic journal, as one of only six SA universities that are in the top 1% of world universities in terms of internationally-quoted publications research. 
 
Although the quest for academic excellence is never ending, I think we can report that so far we appear to have been doing quite well in serving the community by being a very good university for the Free State province. The strategic clusters are an important initiative to take us to greater heights in terms of international academic leadership and being a world class institution. It is also intended to contribute substantially to the economic and social development of the Free State Province.
 
The other big project of 2006 was the work of the Transformation Plan Task Team. I will deal with this as part of the discussion of the Institutional Charter.
 

2. Transformation and the Institutional Charter

 2.1 Gown and blanket and the idea of a social contract
 
In 2003, at my inauguration as Vice-Chancellor, I focused on two ideas.
 
First, the combination of the academic gown and the Seana Marena Basotho blanket. I used this combination to symbolise (a) the commitment of the UFS to uphold and strengthen the intrinsic nature of the university as an academic institution and place of science and scholarship, of learning and research, and (b) the commitment to engage with the problems of communities, notably in the context of development and poverty alleviation challenges.
  • This idea of an ‘engaged university’ has been developed and realised significantly since then, resulting in pioneering policies and practices on community engagement and community service (learning and research). Indeed, the UFS is recognised as a national leader in the field of community engagement, and has the largest numbers of students amongst all SA universities involved in community services learning. (It is also part of our answer to the question of being a university in and for Africa.)
 Secondly, I suggested that the campus should embark on a discourse on a ‘social contract’ (an idea mooted before by prof Coetzee, if I recall correctly). I defined it as a manifesto for a “new society” university, reflecting a mutual understanding and accord between the members of the university community about the kind of university we want to transform and develop into – a manifesto for the ‘promised land’, to convey a clear vision of the road ahead, also providing a basis for addressing the fears, anxieties, expectations and frustrations arising from uncertainty and disagreement about “where we are going”.
 
A campus-wide social contract process was launched in 2004 and 2005. More than 800 staff members (and many students) took part in structured workshops of diverse groups. It was organised around the theme of ‘the promised land’ – a powerful metaphor that focuses the mind (with all the concomitant nuances of a prior period of slavery and oppression, and a long period in the wilderness or desert…).
  • There is a large body of literature, religious and secular, using and exploring the metaphor of a ‘promised land’.
  • Let us recall how hat Martin Luther King Jr. used the term in 1968 to indicate his dream of a state of peace, equality, brotherhood and justice for all.
  • A related metaphor can be found in Dante's Divine Comedy, which describes his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
     
 
 Blunt, honest and sometimes emotional discussions took place – putting the experiences, perceptions, fears, expectations and aspirations of people from widely different backgrounds on the table, listening to each other, hearing each other – often for the first time. After the initial ‘raw’ emotions and reactions, the discussions led to proposals regarding the values and principles which should underpin the “new” UFS.
 
For many, the big discovery was the large degree of common ground on values. Despite divisions created by our past, clearly there was a common basis for constructing a ‘new’ UFS where everybody could belong, could pursue a career, could fulfil their human potential, could contribute to our country.
 
Substantive agreement emerged on the kind of place we want to work and study at. These tended to cluster around two broad themes: (a) being a high quality university, and (b) workplace values and human relations of a diverse staff and student body.
 
2.2 The transformation imperative and the launch of the TPTT
 
Two years ago, at the Official Opening of the UFS, I focused on the transformation imperative.
 
Noting that the UFS has gone through three phases of transformation (since 1978, but especially 1988), I argued that we must focus on going “from good to great”, and that we must firm up our foundations for a great, robust university. Robustness in a fast-changing world requires the adoption of a continual change-mode, being agile and fast-moving, innovative, and pre-emptive. Simply put: it requires continuous transformation.
 
A definition of transformation, as subsequently amended following the TPTT report, was proposed and adopted, as follows:
Transformation is a continual and persistent becoming:
  • Becoming a world class, engaged university of excellence and innovation and place of scholarship for South Africa and Africa;
  • Becoming an equitable, diverse, non-racial, non-sexist, multicultural, multilingual university where everyone would experience a sense of belonging and achieving;
  • Becoming an institution that treasures diversity as a unique source of strength and quality.
 
It is essential to note that this definition covers many dimensions and aspects of a university, including academic practice and focus, resource aspects, staff and student equity, institutional culture, community engagement, governance and management, student life, and so forth – always as university.
 
It is about deep and comprehensive transformation and change, as a university.
 
I then announced the launch of a fourth phase of transformation of the UFS and challenged the university to engage with the concept of best-practice transformation.
 
I re-iterated my view that we must embrace transformation (including the prickly issue of the African university) by unpacking it and giving it proper content. I also argued that we must nurture a culture of belonging which is more than “accommodating” different groups – we must develop an entirely new institutional culture with non-dominance as norm, a strong sense of common values, and a sense of belonging for all, black and white, female and male.
 
To tackle this challenge, a Transformation Plan Task Team was announced and appointed. Under the able leadership of dr Ezekiel Moraka and prof Teuns Verschoor, it contained a cross-section of some of the best young minds at the university, young black and white leaders, academics as well as support staff.
 
2.3 The TPTT report
 
The Report of the TPTT, and an accompanying proposed Transformation Plan, was presented to the Executive Management in October 2006. Their deliberations followed wide consultations with both internal and external stakeholders, including members of the Free State Provincial Government.
 
The report provided a wide-ranging and thorough analysis of the state of transformation at the UFS, and of the challenges remaining. A comprehensive set of proposals was presented on the following broad areas:
  • Institutional culture (including language policy)
  • Academic issues (responsiveness, access, diversity)
  • Governance and management
  • Employment Equity
 
Subsequently these have been discussed by the Senate, the Council, and the Executive Management. Further campus debate will be facilitated in the near future.
 
Today I can announce that the Executive Management has adopted all the proposals of the TPTT in principle. In fact, we have already gone further – by refining some proposals and objectives, strengthening some, adding further proposals, and – as proposed by the TPTT – referring some complex issues to task teams for further interrogation and investigation. Attention will be given to the implementation of these proposals speedily, including those cases where further campus debate is necessary, as has been agreed upon, inter alia with Senate.
 
I wish to thank the TPTT – its convenors, dr Moraka and prof Verschoor, as well as its ‘bright young minds’, a diverse and energetic bunch – for all their hard work in compiling their report and plan. It was a key contribution to this fourth phase of transformation of the UFS.
 
One of the key TPTT recommendations was to complete the social contract process as soon as possible. We have listened to them: this task has been completed in the past few months.
 
2.4 The draft Social Contract or ‘Institutional Charter’
 
Process background
 
Today we can release a first draft of this “social contract”, or what is now provisionally called a draft “Institutional Charter”, for campus-wide discussion and comment.
 
As noted above, the Social Contract process, using the metaphor of a ‘promised land’, was launched in 2004. (It was complemented by various Diversity Sensitization Workshops arranged by the Office of Diversity.) Through this intense and participative process, hundreds of staff and students gave their input relating to the basic values, principles and behaviours that should govern and inform human relations and transformation at the University of the Free State.
 
The draft ‘social contract’ or Institutional Charter was generated from all these inputs as well as the deliberations of the Executive Committee of Executive Management and the Executive Management.
 
At its bosberaad held last month the Executive Management unanimously adopted the first draft of the social contract or Institutional Charter – not as a final document, but as one reflecting sufficient consensus for it to be released for further discussion by the campus.
 
It was agreed that the Charter has all the potential to be a break­through and milestone document, since it provides essential guidelines and parameters for directing and energizing all further transformation.
 
Sentiments expressed by a diverse group of management members and participants, including representatives of labour unions and our three campus SRC presidents, indicated a significant convergence of thinking. It also indicated appreciation for (and even surprise due to) the commitment of the Management to transformation, and to a thorough and well-considered, high-impact and “deep” transformation process.
 
Key questions
 
The key questions behind the social contract process were:
  • How do we ensure that we transform in the best possible and most effective way? What principles should underpin excellence in transformation?
  • Towards what kind of university do we want to transform?  What must be the nature or character of the post-redress, normalised university?
  • Which values and principles must guide our institutional and individual behaviour (within the context of, and guided by, the South African Constitution and its Bill of Rights)?
  • How do we create a university which conforms to our ideals of a place where everybody can feel at home, find a place, find space to grow?
  • How do we reconcile the different fears, aspirations, frustrations and expectations of our members?
  • What does being a high quality, equitable, non-racial, non-sexist, multicultural and multilingual university really entail?
 
These questions must be seen within the broader context of building the new South Africa, of nation building - given our complex, painful history and the legacies of poverty, underdevelopment, colonialism and apartheid.
 
Allow me to briefly take you through this draft Institutional Charter.
 
The Preamble
 
The Preamble affirms and commits the University to upholding the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and its Bill of Rights, especially as realised within the institutional context of a university.
 
The Declaration of Commitments
 
The preamble is followed by a number of important commitments and acknowledgements.
 
First, the recognition of those who have worked to build and develop our University since its inception in 1904: from a very small university, serving a poor, marginalized community under a colonial government, to a large and respected, high-quality university serving more than 25000 students from diverse communities and economic backgrounds.
 
But, then the acknowledgement that our country’s history has divided the peoples of South Africa and marginalized black people and women (and people with disabilities) from job and developmental opportunities, also within the higher education sector and at this University.
 
The Charter recognizes that in its recent history the University has committed itself to transformation and redirected itself to serving all communities, in particular by opening its doors to all races, through access programmes and the introduction of a progressive parallel-medium language policy (as well as other transformation steps).
 
Then follows a very important statement regarding diversity:
“We value, affirm and commit ourselves to embrace and celebrate the rich diversity of South Africa’s peoples within the central region, a diversity that manifests itself in language, culture, religion, social and economic status, sexual orientation and nationality, among others.”
 
The charter commits the university to meeting the challenges of a transforming society and a transforming higher education institution in a developing society, in particular the challenges of nation-building, reconciliation, redress, non-racialism and non-sexism – and ultimately normalisation – within a high-quality academic institution.
 
The charter also commits the university to strengthening the core competencies and capabilities of this University as an institution of higher learning, striving to ensure a robust and sustainable university for current and future generations.
 
The draft Charter importantly also echoes the sentiments of the SA Constitution regarding the acknowledgement of the sovereign authority and guidance of God in these matters. (“May God protect our people.”)
 
A phased view of transformation
 
In a key section, the Charter set outs a particular approach to good and successful transformation at the institutional level. This reflects a two-phase view of best-practice transformation.
 
The Charter highlights that our institution currently is in a redress phase of transformation in which we seek to overcome the burden of our past and its various histories, and in which we seek to address particular inequities of this past.
 
It recognises the complexity of our current efforts in this redress phase, given numerous societal demands on universities, as well as the presence of polarities, contradictions and conflicting forces and objectives.
  • Examples are: Whilst multilingualism opens access to students and serves them well, it appears to limit access of staff. Employment equity is essential, but how do we harmonize it with diversity and multilingualism – and with providing a career for the best young white and black staff in a non-racial setting? Is there some optimum diversity mix if one wants to maximize the benefits of diversity, or promote non-racialism, at a place of higher learning?
 
The draft Charter says that we recognize that these have to be managed and brought into a state of balance and be harmonized if we are to produce, when the redress phase comes to an end, a ‘first promised land’ for all – black and white, female and male, and so forth
 
We see this intermediate outcome – the first promised land - as displaying the structural conditions for an institutional ‘space’ within which both fears and aspirations/expectations are moderated, within which conflict between objectives can be moderated, and which is characterized by a principled balance and symmetry between competing objectives, forces, interests and interest groups.
 
It is likely that such structural conditions will include approximate balance in the composition of staff and students.
 
We intend this intermediate goal – the ‘first promised land’ – to provide a nurturing and fertile environmentfor proceeding to the ‘final/eventual promised land’. This would be a normalised university community characterised by truly non-racial, non-sexist and non-discriminatory paradigms and behaviours amongst all the people of the University – where old paradigms, divisions, pains, conflicts and tensions will be transcended, and where race and gender have ceased to be decisive factors in determining behaviour, attitudes and thinking. In short: a high quality, equitable, non-racial, non-sexist, multicultural and multilingual university which has been normalised.
 
Aim of the Charter
 
The introduction of the concept of a (first) promised land derives from a belief that, by providing a framework and vision of what kind of future university we are transforming towards, the dynamics of the transformation process will be better aligned towards energetic, well-directed and principled transformation rather than getting impeded by counter-productive cross-currents.
 
We will get both better and faster transformation.
 
What the Charter then does – in addition to describing overarching values espoused by the institution and its people – is to describe the outlines and constitutive principles of the ‘first promised land’, as well as the parameters for the process of moving successfully towards this goal.
 
However, clearly the values and many of the principles and parameters are equally constitutive and important for the ultimate phase of transformation towards a normalised university community.
 
Seen together, the values and constitutive principles are intended to provide an incubating environment within which the redress phase can be completed and, even more important, within which the future UFS can be constituted, first in the intermediate term (‘first promised land’) and later in the long term (‘eventual promised land’).
 
Statement of Values
 
A next section of the Charter reflects the remarkably wide consensus by social contract workshop participants on the values that they espouse, also for the workplace. Most of these can be incorporated under the existing official Values of the Universities – although I foresee a robust campus debate on the inclusion of additional values, as well as the more detailed specification of these values. It suffices to mention but a few:
 
4.1 Academic freedom and autonomy
This is about promoting critical scientific inquiry and freedom of thought, respecting the right of all to freedom of speech, and fostering a culture of open, responsible debate and critical discourse.
 
4.2 Excellence and quality
Examples:
Pursue scholarly quality in all aspects of the academic enterprise.
Practise the highest professional standards in both academe and support services.
Nurture innovation, new ideas and a spirit of initiative.
 
4.3 Fairness
This is about justice and equity in all aspects and activities of our institution, and also contributing as a university to social justice and equity in society at large
It is about opposing and eliminating any discriminatory practices based on race or gender or religion or sexual preference, as well as other forms of unfair discrimination.
 
4.4 Service
Establish and energetically project a service culture within the context of an academic institution.
Comply with our responsibility to produce graduates that are well-rounded and intellectually developed and skilled as workers and critical citizens.
Care for others in a spirit of humanness and botho/ubuntu.
 
4.5 Integrity
Practise the highest professional and ethical standards and personal and professional integrity in our work and dealings with others.
Respect oneself and show mutual respect for others
Establish a culture of fellowship and mutual tolerance.
Respect for public law and common law in all their subdivisions.
Using university resources effectively, efficiently and frugally in a spirit of stewardship and sustainability.
 
These values may seem non-controversial (mother’s milk and apple pie) – but in the context of a very diverse and multicultural institution in the midst of a redress phase, they constitute a very important common ground and basis for unity, reconciliation and mutual embracement of a joint future.
 
Constitutive Principles of a high quality, equitable, non-racial and non-sexist University      
 
Like a Constitution of a State, but adapted to the university environment, this section seeks to specify foundational, constitutive principles and parameters –perhaps building blocks? – of our future university. These are intended to give a clear sense of direction – and a sense of being directed by principled parameters – to activities at the University.
 

A first category of constitutive principles relates to the most foundational of all, i.e. the intrinsic nature of the University:

  • Maintaining the intrinsic nature of the University as a place of science and scholarship, amidst continual change and adaptation to new circumstances and challenge.
  • At all times accepting the centrality of critical scientific inquiry as the foundation of science and scholarship and the leitmotiv that shapes typical, core university functions, tasks and work.
  • Safeguarding academic freedom and institutional autonomy as the foundation of critical inquiry and scholarship.
  • Implementing the core tasks of the university – which are teaching/learning and research comprising both (a) basic knowledge and knowledge-creation and (b) applied, career-oriented and engaged science; which includes (c) engagement with the developmental problems of communities (i.e. integrated community service founded in scholarship).
  • Acknowledging that the intrinsic nature of the university requires all teaching-learning, research and community service to be scholarly and scholarship-based.
  • Recognising that sustainability as a robust university requires an ingrained habit of renewal built on critical self-reflection.
 A second group of principles relate to the foundations of our academic culture, quality and excellence:
  • A positive connection between teaching and research, with quality in academic work requiring a balance and mutual enrichment between both areas.
  • Quality through diversity of disciplines, approaches and people.
  • Quality through innovation and continuous improvement.
  • Engagement with the problems of South Africa and Africa.
  • Equity, justice and fairness in academic activities.
 A third, and very important group, relates to diversity and the social context within the institution:
  • Equity, justice and fairness in dealing with diversity.
  • Innovation in the pursuit of equity and justice.
  • Creating space and a sense of belonging for all members of the university – black and white, male and female, of whatever language, cultural or economic background, as well as people with disabilities.
  • Sufficient diversity of symbols and artefacts to reflect the diversity of histories and cultures unambiguously and in a balanced, respectful manner.
  • Substantive and sufficient multilingualism (in terms of the main and other languages) in academic and support activities.
  • Substantive multiculturalism and embracement of the diversity of cultures.
  • Non-dominance amongst diversity, i.e. preventing the dominance of any group over others.
  • Non-marginalisation and respect for minorities.
  • Balance between competing interests and conflicting objectives by explicitly and innovatively pursuing the difficult trade-offs that may be necessary.
  • Sufficient diversity in the composition of academic and support staff and students to constitute the necessary institutional space for nurturing non-racialism, non-sexism, multi­culturalism, multilingualism and non-dominance.
  • Sufficient diversity of staff in terms of professional language skills to meet the operational needs of multilingual teaching in the main languages.
 A next group relate to the work environment, for example:
  • A rewarding work environment and relevant career opportunities in order to be an employer of preference for the best staff: black and white, female and male, of whatever working age.
  • The thousands of matriculants, black and white, who apply to study here, want to study at a good university, and a good university wants to attract the best black and white students and the best black and white staff, male and female.
  • Embracing multilingualism by empowering all our members to function, albeit perhaps at different levels, in both main languages of the University; in addition, empowering all staff and students to be at least functionally skilled in Sesotho.

Relating to student life, the charter has provisional principles such as:

  • Upholding the highest standards of learning, academic excellence, scholarship and critical inquiry, and an all-pervasive academic culture.
  • Embracing the rich diversity of student life at the UFS in terms of race, gender, language, religion, nationality etc – and maintaining sufficient diversity in the student body (for both city and residential students).
  • A positive and supportive environment and platform for dynamic student life which is based on an educational approach towards student activities.
  • Others could be contemplated, e.g. Fostering a culture of service and community engagement in the academic sphere and in other spheres of student life. (I am sure the students will add to this list.)
 Relating to governance and management:
  • Substantive presence of different population groups in governance, management and decision-making bodies.
  • Functioning in a non-bureaucratic and non-authoritarian manner in all the operations of the university.
  • Decision-making based on transparency, inclusivity and participation, and following open and non-dominating communication and discourse.
  • A co-operative, trustful and respectful relationship between labour unions and management in the common interest of the institution and all its staff members and students.

Another one to consider is:

  • Abiding by the highest international norms and standards regarding corporate governance.
This is the essence of what we are calling our draft Institutional Charter. I believe it is a major breakthrough in the transformation discourse on this campus as it attempts to clarify our thinking on some very complex issues.
 
In so doing it seeks to build consensus and provide some clarity and a sense of ease about the future we want to create and the path we must follow to get there.
 
Concluding remarks on the Charter
 
As noted above, we suspect that the Institutional Charter, once finalised, will come to play and increasingly important role in directing the transformation and academic discourse on this campus.
 
We commit ourselves to institute the necessary implementation plans and operational processes, appropriately prioritised, to enable the UFS to move briskly and assuredly on the road of transformation – in its broadest sense – towards our intermediate institutional goal (the ‘first promised land’) within the parameters and guidelines provided by this Charter.
 
We also suspect – and indeed hope – that the Charter will encourage staff and students to seriously engage intellectually with the complex issues brought to mind by the Charter, as befits a good university. Many specifics will have to be agreed upon and a difficult course negotiated. Such critical discourse is important for this University. It is important for this country.
 
I want to appeal today to all members of the University community to look beyond the stresses and strains of our current situation and imagine a future where we can all feel at home. Our Charter is an attempt to visualise this future and we must all be part of building it.
 
This Charter also states that we unambiguously stand for attaining and maintaining diversity – sufficient and substantive diversity – because it makes us a better university, an equitable university, and innovative university, and an engaged university – and because diversity is and must remain a source of strength and robustness.
 
3. Conclusion: 2 February and a Plea from Africa (and from the University of the Free State)
 
Looking back over the last number of years, one can see a process of progressive unfolding and unpacking of our concept of transformation, of the dimensions of transformation, of the dynamics and phases of transformation - and of what constitutes (good or best?) transformation. This is the task we have set ourselves in 2003. This is the task we must continue with. Together.
 
Today is the 2nd of February 2007. The date of 2 February has a particular significance in our recent history. It will always be remembered for the announcement, in 1990, of the unbanning of political organisations and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and a range of steps that would lead to a new Constitution and a new democratic dispensation and election. Without in any way suggesting a similar level of importance of today, I would want us to contemplate the issues and announcements of today, and in particular the release of the draft Institutional Charter, in the context of our historic duty to apply our minds and energy to building this institution, this society, this nation, this country – in a constructive, principled, balanced and inclusive manner.
 
It want us to turn our thoughts now to one of the most symbolic and moving pieces of music ever to come out of this country and this continent. It is the song, Plea from Africa, written by John Knox Bokwe more than a hundred years ago. It expresses the yearning of peoples in Africa under colonial oppression and exploitation, the yearning for a new future, for a promised land. Let us listen quietly to this prayer:
 
PLEA FROM AFRICA
 
1
Give a thought to Africa! ‘neath the burning Sun
There are hosts of weary hearts, waiting to be won
Many lives have passed away; and in many homes
There are voices crying now, to the living God.
 
Chorus:
Tell the love of Jesus
By her hills and waters
God bless Africa
And her sons and daughters
 
2
Breathe a pray’r for Africa! God the Father’s love
Can reach down and bless all hearts, from His heav’n above
And when lips are moved by grace they so sweetly sing
Pray for peace in Africa from our loving God
 
Chorus:
Tell the love of Jesus
By her hills and waters
God bless Africa
And her sons and daughters
 
                                                J.K. Bokwe (1855-1922)
 
Let us all – the diverse daughters and sons of Africa in this beloved country and at this well-loved university – take hands to build a new future, based on a principled approach to scholarly quality and based on a rich diversity – a new future for all at this university.
 
Let us fortify our foundations for a great and robust, ever-changing university of excellence, equity, engagement and innovation.
 
May God bless this process, this institution, this province, this country.
Modimo o hlohonolofatse yunivesithi ena.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
 
Khotso Pula Nala
 
In Deo Sapientiae Lux.

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