The University of the Western Cape council's choice for rector and vice-chancellor questioned

Professor Robert Balfour

Professor Robert Balfour

Published Apr 11, 2024


Cape Town - An announcement by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) council on the appointment of Professor Robert Balfour as incoming rector and vice-chancellor has raised eyebrows and elicited strong reactions.

The UWC council appointed Balfour with his tenure to come into effect on January 1, 2025, to succeed the current rector and vice-chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius.

The announcement was made by the council chairperson, Xoliswa Daku, last Thursday.

Balfour is currently deputy vice-chancellor: Teaching and Learning at North-West University, and was an honorary professor of education in the School of Education Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal until 2015, and reappointed in 2017.

He has experience in academic and administrative leadership over a period of almost 20 years.

“His extensive expertise encompasses various domains, including applied linguistics, post-colonial literary criticism, and education.

“We are confident that, under his leadership, the University of the Western Cape will continue to thrive and excel in its trajectory as a leading higher education institution.”

An alumnus and former employee within UWC’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, and acclaimed writer and poet, Dr Diana Ferrus, called the council’s decision a “huge mistake”.

Ferrus was a UWC student during the 1970s, whose works related to race, gender, class and reconciliation.

“They had shortlisted candidates, two women and one man … They should have appointed one of the two women … they had the perfect opportunity to be one of the universities that have a woman vice-chancellor and they let it slip through their fingers.”

In September 2023, announced three shortlisted candidates, which included Balfour, Professor José Frantz, and Professor Vivienne Lawack.

Ferrus said many alumni shared the same or similar sentiments as her. “The majority of them are livid. The record and the reputation of the university, as built by previous rectors, especially Jakes Gerwel and Brian O’Connell … We’re being let down,” Ferrus said.

A former UWC student from 20032010, who returned to pursue his PhD at the university, said the choice was surprising and controversial, “given the racial profile and the racial dynamics at UWC, the history and tradition of the university of the Left and then you can ask, what is special about him?

“Perhaps he’s got a very leftist leaning kind of political posture … but why would UWC, given the racial demographics at the institution, opt to vote for a middle-aged white South African?”

UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said 18 applications were received. “Professor Robert Balfour was appointed following rigorous deliberation and assessment of his excellent academic credentials.”

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Cape Argus