THE BLOG
20/12/2017 11:23 SAST | Updated 20/12/2017 12:55 SAST

Rhodes Alumni: Expulsion Of Student Activists 'Draconian'

"We cannot stand by and see our alma mater quash the radical, critical potential of students and staff by denying degrees."

Rhodes University students lie on their backs during protests against sexual violence at the institution on April 19, 2016, in Grahamstown, South Africa. This came after the names of 11 students accused of rape were posted on social media.
Gallo images / The Times / Fredlin Adriaan
Rhodes University students lie on their backs during protests against sexual violence at the institution on April 19, 2016, in Grahamstown, South Africa. This came after the names of 11 students accused of rape were posted on social media.

Concerned Alumni Media Statement 20 December 2017

As alumni of the University Still Known as Rhodes (USKAR), we express our concern and dismay at the university's recent decision to permanently expel two students. It is not merely the expulsion, but the severity of this action that alarms us -- namely, that the students stand to lose the credits they have earned while at the university, and will be denied the opportunity to complete their degrees.

Context of the Expulsions

In April 2016, the #RUReferenceList was released anonymously via social media, outing alleged perpetrators of sexual assault who were either students at USKAR at the time, or past students who had since graduated. Hundreds mobilised to demonstrate across campus, with a group of students "taking custody" of two of the accused. On 17 November 2017, the university permanently expelled two students -- Yolanda Dyanti and Dominique McFall -- for "criminal acts" allegedly committed during these protests.

According to the Mail & Guardian, which has seen the university's internal documents, USKAR has argued that to expel the students with "untainted" transcripts would allow them to complete their degrees elsewhere: "a result [that] would render this entire disciplinary process a wasted exercise". Thus, the students' transcripts will read "Conduct unsatisfactory" and list a range of offences, including kidnapping, defamation, assault and insubordination (with some variation between the two students in question).

This is highly unusual, as official transcripts do not typically record disciplinary offences. Furthermore, USKAR will not accept credits obtained from other institutions towards completing their degrees. These two actions make it impossible for Dyanti and McFall to obtain their degrees, essentially robbing them of the education they have worked for over the past three years.

Concerned Alumni Speak Out

We understand that universities must have disciplinary structures in place to deal with criminal behaviour. USKAR maintains that Dyanti and McFall are being expelled for "illegal acts" and not for protesting, which is a constitutional right in South Africa.

However, in line with the statement released by concerned academics at USKAR, we must question "whether the university actually had the prima facie evidence against these students for the alleged acts -- particularly when one of these students was unable to be present at the hearings."

Furthermore, it perturbs us that, in disciplining the students, the university has departed so drastically from the guidelines set by the South African justice system. As Candice Nolan reports for the SABC: "According to the university website, a student found guilty of rape was once given a ten-year exclusion –– a crime that carries a direct imprisonment term in our justice system. But absurdly, had the activists been tried in a court of law, they may only have faced a four-year suspended sentence."

USKAR brands itself as an institution "where leaders learn." But what exactly, we ask, will students learn in light of this draconian action? Thanks to the remarkable scholarship and guidance of our academic staff, many of us hold dear the years we spent at the university. USKAR is where we learnt to think critically and compassionately, to challenge power and status quo, and to imagine a better and more inclusive future for our country and the world.

By meting out such an extreme punishment, we worry that the message sent to students and staff alike is that dissent will not be tolerated at the university, and that protest must comply with the "acceptable" standards delineated by those in power.

How can academics, both nascent and established, practise critical scholarship when they fear retribution for speaking out against social and institutional justice? This is not simply about the alleged criminality of Dyanti and McFall, but also the larger implications for higher education and the pursuit of knowledge.

As alumni, our intention is not to weigh in on the criminality of the alleged perpetrators or student activists. But we cannot stand by and see our alma mater quash the radical, critical potential of students and staff by denying degrees, retroactively erasing academic work, and preventing further education.

We call upon the university to live up to its motto: to lead, and to teach others to lead, in the fight for academic freedom, transformation, and social justice.

Signed by:

Alexis de Coning (2011 MA)

J Lothian (2014 MA)

Paulette Coetzee (2015 PhD)

Nyx McLean (2011 MA)

Nina Reinach (2016 BAH)

Dr Minesh Dass (2014 PhD)

Dylan Andrew Beckerling (2011 BSc)

Martha Soteriades (2014 BJrn)

Kyle Dylan de Boer (2011 MA)

Philip Eric John Sulter (2016 MA)

Travis Carlyle (2014 BJrn)

Benjamin George Timm (2013 BA)

Shameez Joubert (2012 BJrn)

Skye Martin (2011 BAH)

Lilian Kaplan (2009 BAH)

Lauren Edwards (2011 BFA)

Carol Jane Clarke (1975 BA)

Kath Barnard (2016 BAH)

Gorata Chengeta (2015 BJrn, 2016 BAH)

Andrew Keeton (2017 BAH)

Philisiwe Mbongwana (2012 BA, 2016 PDMM)

Leigh Stadler (2009 BA, 2010 BAH, 2013 MSc)

Onelisa Mellesa Mcimbi (2018 BA)

Dave Mann (2015 BA)

Vanessa Banda (2017 LLB) Judith Reynolds (1997 MA)

Kirk Helliker (2007 PhD)

Sandra Bhatasara (2015 PhD)

Heather Dixon (2017 BSS)

Kelsey Lemon (2017 BA)

Ellen Heydenrych (2017 BJrn) Catherine Louise Jackson (2010 BAH) Pumelela Nqelenga (2015 MA) Colleta Simungu (2016 BAH)

Jessica Amy Marais (2014 MA)

Lehlonono Seemane (2016 BComm, 2017 PGCE) Cassandra Guerra (2017 BSSH)

Matthew Hanly (2017 BA)

Tarryn-leigh Swartbooi (2015 BA)

Ashleigh Dean (2017 BJrn)

Oliver February (2016 BAH)

Thembisa L Cima (2008 BSS, 2009 PGCE)

Mayo Twala (2017 BA)

Phumelela Mantwana (2017 Bachelor of Commerce)

Brendon George Reyneke (2017 BJrn)

Paige Lyn Muller (2017 BJrn)

Kirra Evans (2017 BSS)

Anna Talbot (2016 BA)

Sarah Kate Schäfer (2009, BJrn)

James Fraser (2017 BA)

Babalwa Magoqwana (2015 PhD)

Heather Leigh Arends (2015 BA, 2016 PGDip) Jessica Harrison (2014 MA)

Shriya Magan (2017 BPharm)

James Speirs (2009 BA)

Ashliegh Naomi Mey (2017 BA)

Kieran Osmond (2016 BA, 2017 PGCE)

Nimi Hoffmann (2018 PhD)

Craig Paterson (2010 MA)

Nina Tabitha McFall (2014 BJrn)

Rebecca Pointer (1992 BJrn)

Hussein Badat (2011 BAH)

Leila Stein (2016 BJrn)

Dr Carla Tsampiras (1997 BAH, 2012 PhD)

Barrie Lake (2016 BAH)

Siphokazi Mthethwa (2014 BScH)

Wenzile Ndlovu (2017 BCom)

Megan Natasha Ross (BJrn 2012)

Rain Abraham (2017 BSS)

Sean Mongie (2015 BAH)

Cebisa Luzipho (2014 BA)

Asaphila Zani (2017 BSS)

Ishtar Lakhani (2007 BAH)

Mary Theru Wambui (2015 MA) Elna Schütz (2014 BJrn)

Deva Lee (2012 MA)

Kauri Botha (2014/2016 BScH) Jason Russel Smith (2018 PGDip) Caroyln (Tally) Palmer (1992 PhD) Carly Sanderson (2017 BA)

Mbali Msiza (2016 BSSH)

Ntombizethu Gqola (2011 BSS)

Stephanie Stretch (2016 LLB)

Babalwa Pendlani (2018 BSc)

Zethu Nyezi (2017 BCom)

Jonis Ghedi Alasow (2013 BAH)

Tamika Du-Pont (2017 BA)

Reitumetse Nkhahle (2017 BScH)

Laine Butler (2017 BAH)

Micaelan Halse (2016 BScH)

Louise Charasika nee Featherstone (2012 BSSH) Zoë Reeve (2012 MA)

Carolyn Amanda Shelver (1994 BAH)

Siobhan Una Wheeler (2006 BAH, 2007 PGCE)

Rachel Stols (2006 BA)

Ben Rule (2013 BA, 2015 LLB)

Meshalini Govender (2016 BCom)

Nada Kakaza (2012 BSS, 2014 LLB)

Athena Mazarakis (1995 BAH)

Dr Lucy Valerie Graham (BA, BAH, 1997 MA, 2009 PhD from Oxford University) Deborah Seddon (1994 BA, 1995 BAH, 1998 MA)

Demelza Bush (2008 BJrn)

Dominique McFall (2017 BA - degree withheld)