Cape Town v-c: two left in race

March 31, 2000

The race is on for the leadership of South Africa's top university following the departure of vice-chancellor Mamphela Ramphele to the World Bank. But few people seem to want the job.

The University of Cape Town has announced a shortlist of two from a list of applicants, seven of whom had been granted preliminary interviews with the university's selection committee.

The two are David Maughan Brown, senior deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Natal, and Njabulo Ndebele, former vice-chancellor of the University of the North, and scholar-inresidence at the Ford Foundation in New York.

The two will now meet the council, senate, executive, students and nominated university representatives.

The selection committee will choose a nominee based on interviews with the candidates and campus feedback.

It is difficult to speculate on who has the best chance of leading South Africa's top research university.

Both candidates are exceptional intellectuals - and both specialise in African literature. While Professor Ndebele has the edge because of his ethnicity, he has had a hard time at the University of the North.

The Cape Town post was widely advertised and the selection committee conducted a head hunt as well as inviting a "large number" of local and international people and organisations to identify potential candidates.

But it is common knowledge that few academics have the stomach for the dauntingly critical and public selection processes that many South African universities have followed since the early 1990s political reform, which was accompanied by determination to transform higher education leadership.

The job has become a political struggle, with institutions obliged to make selection processes highly transparent and inclusive. Politically opposing sides have waged dirty public wars that have left many candidates emotionally battered, with their reputations in tatters.

Cape Town has simplified the selection process and is excluding the campus community from direct participation.

Dr Ramphele said that difficult and alienating aspects of selection had to be changed.

Senate and council will make the final decision, which, according to council and selection committee chair Tony Farr, ought to be by mid-April.

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