JM Coetzee: Universities head for extinction

In the view of Mr Coetzee there is a special disaster available for the West as it heads unerringly along the way of Romans  et al …Mail & Gaurdian this comentary on the loss of the University of Cape Towns’s academic freedom should be read with this post by  :How To Fake Your Way Through Life: Non-Academic Job on what to do once you realize your PhD is worthless and will not allow you to obtain a tenured position in the beloved field you have toiled at. These  points of view have a strange synchronicity to me that makes me think that the dream of a humanist education and the failure of the Enlightenment project is now  in the throes of the death it deserves, as I sit here in Rwanda reading a critique of the colonial project by Mahmood Mamdani  “When Victims become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and the Genocide in Rwanda” whle daily engaged in designing and  building new suburbs for an elite to return to while the poor are in a dreadful position and eking out a subsistence from patches of remnant agricultural land in the midst of the city.

Novelist and academic JM Coetzee’s foreword to University of Cape Town fellow Professor John Higgins’s new book.

The response of the political class to the university's claim to a special status in relation to the polity has been crude but effectua. (David Harrison, MG)

Dear John,

Thank you for letting me see your essays on academic freedom in South Africa. The general question you address – “Is a university still a university when it loses its academic autonomy?” – seems to me of the utmost importance to the future of higher education in South Africa.

Hardly less important is the junior cousin of that question, namely: “Is a university without a proper faculty of humanities (or faculty of humanities and social sciences) still a university?”

As you point out, the policy on academic autonomy followed by the ANC government is troublingly close to the policy followed by the old National Party government: universities may retain their autonomy as long as the terms of their autonomy can be defined by the state.

The National Party had a conception of the state, and the role played by education within the state, to which such tenets of British liberal faith as academic freedom were simply alien. The indifference of the ANC to academic freedom has less of a philosophical basis, and may simply come out of a defensive reluctance to sanction sites of power over which it has no control.

But South African universities are by no means in a unique position. All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.

You argue – cogently – that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and short­sighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society – indeed, to a vigorous national economy – is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves, you argue, we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis. And only the neglected humanities can provide a training in such critical literacy.

I hope that your book will be high on the reading list of those politicians busy reshaping higher ­education in the light of national priorities, as well as of those university administrators to whom the traditional humanities have become alien ground. I hope that, having read and digested what you have to say, those politicians and administrators will undergo a change of heart. But alas, I do not believe that your hopes and mine have much chance of being realised.

Read More


In Search of a Rwandese Regionalism; ‘Learnt in Translation’ lecture by Peter Rich, Kigali, Rwanda 2011, by Killian Doherty

An article from archinect on a lecture that highlights the plight of most african Architecture and its resultant urbanism – made from “pieces of left over” from late modernism which all developing countries aspire to emulate despite the overwhelming evidence that they are unsustainable, unsatisfactory to live in and plain ugly …. 

Kigali context and Image of Kigali Masterplan model, Courtesy of Killian Doherty

Kigali context and Image of Kigali Masterplan model, Courtesy of Killian Doherty

 ‘The reality I have known no longer exists’ laments the narrator at the loss of the Paris of his youth. This extract from Marcel Proust’s ‘A la recherché du temps perdu’ (In Search of Lost Time), is referred to in Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre’s seminal essay ‘Why Critical Regionalism today?’ in an attempt to poetically capture the concept of the loss of a place and its identity. A loss synonymous with modern architecture, particularly in relation to contemporary global development , in this essay they argue for a ‘Regionalist Architecture’ , an architecture of place making which preserves the fibres of ‘collective social structures and the collective representations’(i)that are etched within community and place ; things that cannot be recaptured if lost.

Kigali is undergoing a radical transformation in implementing its 2020 vision for the city, and in doing so is experiencing a rapid disintegration of identity and culture. Traces of Rwanda’s rich vernacular, which utilise local materials (such as earthwork construction and roof thatch; more details), have been vehemently outlawed, with generic, mono-functional high rise buildings, constructed of concrete, clad with a ubiquitous curtain walling opted for as the preferred aesthetic choice for a modern Rwanda.  These incongruous visual/architectural doctrines bare no contextual relevance to the semi-pastoral setting of Kigali, yet are being ruthlessly implemented and constructed, in most cases by Chinese contractors (more details). The traditional methods of construction which are almost forbidden , mean that within a country which is landlocked the building industry has become heavily dependent upon importing materials, carrying with it escalating material costs and increased embodied energy; this is the dichotomy that defines architectural progress in Rwanda.

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Peter Rich Architects

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Peter Rich Architects

Therefore it has never been timelier for the South African architect, and teacher, Peter Rich (more about Peter Rich Architects) whose very work draws heavily from its context’s, serving to bolster local communities it resides within, to now re-visit Rwanda to conduct a workshop and a lecture on his work with the Kigali Institute of Technology (KIST) , also in conjunction with theUniversity of Arkansas School of Architecture. Peter Rich’s work has established an architecture which is uniquely African. Influenced directly by an understanding of spatial hierarchies and aesthetic qualities of African tribal settlements, he works directly within the community, sustaining the cultures and traditions re-emerging in his buildings. His methods are not only due to his empathy for marginalised communities, but are methods which are a forceful architectural response to the new problems posed by contemporary global development, where a disintegration of identity, culture and community is characterized by homogeneity of place.  Continue reading