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NOTICE | Rudi Buys: Diversity and inclusiveness are needed in university convocations for a vibrant future

A general view of Stellenbosch University on June 15, 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/ER Lombard)

A convocation engages with the Senate and the Council as the penultimate academic and institutional oversight bodies. It’s about the direction and future of the university, as much as the policies and parameters within which the institution should be run, writes Rudi buys.

Some claim that universities are headed for disaster and their future hangs in the balance.

They point to a never-ending series of challenges higher education institutions face in advocating for this view – declining research funding, rising costs, worsening student preparation, difficulties with transformation, and political unrest on campuses. .

The challenges add too much to the load so that universities have less time for real knowledge work.

“They have to deal with so many other issues that scholars, administrators and students have less time for learning and research,” say skeptics of the future.

In such a reality, the argument goes, the outcome can be nothing but discouraged leaders, discouraged academics, and discouraged students – an evil cycle that leads to only one outcome: the end of the good. university.

The challenges are real

While this view may be overly dramatic, the challenges are real. How will campuses find appropriate solutions to the speed with which the challenges are intensifying? One of the ways universities are trying to stay on top of the situation is by reaching out to their wider alumni community, the alumni, for help.

The loyalty and connectedness of alumni has therefore become essential to the modern university, as has their voice in the future direction of an institution. While the alumni office pursues loyalty and participation, a university convocation is a forum that orchestrates the voice of alumni in university affairs.

At the University of Stellenbosch, the convocation includes all those who have obtained a qualification from the university, as well as current and retired scholars. As a former student and scholar, your membership in the call is implied by virtue of your involvement in the academic program. You cannot request it; it is a given. You can only resign from your membership.

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Convocations as part of universities come from the original graduation gatherings at the oldest Western universities, such as the University of Oxford. It was simply a gathering of actors directly involved in the academic project, as is still the case today. The difference, however, is that while convocation historically referred to the graduation ceremony itself, a convocation today very intentionally also refers to the organized structure that represents the very broad academic community in the governance of the university. ‘university.

The convocation therefore engages the Senate and the Council as the penultimate academic and institutional oversight bodies – it is about the direction and future of the university, as much as the policies and parameters within which the institution must be managed.

A secure future

Therefore, former students and scholars have, through the convocation, the formal opportunity to co-create a future that is not disastrous but secure, with courageous university leaders, pioneering scholars and committed students. It is a grim reality, however, that convocations are often dissenting voices in dialogue with universities, prioritizing one concern above all else and constantly challenging institutional developments.

As a result, what convocations writ large are meant to achieve, namely to build the university, falls apart, and the opposite is unwittingly achieved, namely, to discourage shared design of solutions. Such convocations emerge for two reasons, namely exclusive membership and a unique agenda.

Where they fail to build an inclusive membership across diverse communities and generations of students, such convocations persist. IIf elected leaders fail to engage with diverse members to develop an inclusive agenda, such convocations thrive. Lack of buy-in and inclusive agendas are, however, in my view, just symptoms of identity confusion.

When a convocation and its leaders see themselves first as bridge builders who bring together diverse alumni and craft inclusive programs, exclusivity and captured programs dissipate, and a vibrant voice emerges to co-create the great university. .

– Dr. Rudi Buys is the nnewly elected Vice President of the Stellenbosch Convocation.

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