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Rhodes University: History

University education in the Eastern Cape began in the college departments of four schools: St Andrew’s, Grahamstown; Gill College, Somerset East; Graaff-Reinet College; and the Grey Institute in Port Elizabeth. The four St Andrew’s College professors, Arthur Matthews, George Cory, Stanley Kidd and GF Dingemans became founding professors of the Rhodes University College.

At the beginning of 1905, Rhodes moved from cramped quarters at St Andrew’s to the Drostdy building, which it bought from the British Government. Rhodes became a constituent college of the new University of South Africa in 1918 and it continued to expand in size. When the future of the University of South Africa came under review in 1947, Rhodes opted to become an independent university.

Rhodes University was inaugurated on March 10, 1951. Sir Basil Schonland, son of Selmar Schonland, became the first Chancellor of his alma mater, and Dr Thomas Alty the first Vice-Chancellor. In terms of the Rhodes University Private Act, the University College of Fort Hare was affiliated to Rhodes University. This mutually beneficial arrangement continued until the apartheid government decided to disaffiliate Fort Hare from Rhodes. The Rhodes Senate and Council objected strongly to this, and to the Separate University Education Bill, which they condemned as interference with academic freedom. However, the two bills were passed, and Fort Hare’s affiliation to Rhodes came to an end in 1959.

James Hyslop succeeded Alty in 1963. In 1971 Rhodes negotiated to purchase the closed Community of the Resurrection Training College buildings and grounds and a number of adjacent buildings, facilitating further expansion.

Under Dr Derek Henderson, who succeeded Hyslop in 1975 and later under Dr David Woods, who took over the reins as Vice-Chancellor in 1996, the university’s expansion continued apace.

Dr Saleem Badat was inaugurated as Vice-Chancellor in September 2006. His plans for the future include facilitating further steady and planned growth of the university, social equity with quality, while at the same time, transforming and developing it into one of the “great African universities”.

He argues that a university produces and disseminates knowledge which advances our understanding of our natural and social worlds, and enriches our accumulated ‘cultural inheritances’ and heritage; cultivates and forms the cognitive character of students so that they: ‘can think effectively and critically’; is committed ‘to the spirit of truth’, and allows intellectual inquiry ‘to go where it will’ without any ‘boundaries’ and possesses the necessary academic freedom, self-rule by academics, and institutional autonomy to effectively produce and disseminate knowledge.

The tasks he has identified for Rhodes include: providing imaginatively, thoughtfully, and rigorously conceptualised, designed, and implemented teaching and learning programmes and qualifications that take into account the kinds of knowledge, competencies, skills and attitudes that graduates require to function in a rapidly changing society, continent and world; producing knowledge through different kinds of imaginative research and scholarship, including the pursuit of truth and critique without fear of reaction; and undertaking community engagement through mutually respectful, reciprocal and beneficial partnerships with various communities.

He is adamant that in pursuing its purposes and tasks Rhodes University must be alive to the state of disciplinary knowledge, the abilities and needs of its students, and the social, cultural and economic contexts in which research, learning and teaching, and community engagement take place. Necessarily, therefore, Rhodes must engage with the challenges of our local, national, and wider African contexts.

These challenges include the imperatives of economic growth and development; the requirement to compete globally; job creation and the elimination of poverty; the effective provision of social services; and the threat of HIV/AIDS, and other diseases that ravage Africa.

They also encompass the imperatives of social equity and redress; social justice, the building of a substantive democracy, the defence and advancement of a culture of human rights, and ensuring a vibrant civil society that is characterized by vigorous and critical public intellectual debate.

He argues, however, that it is not a matter simply of being responsive to development challenges. It is also a question of intellectual visibility - about a proactive engagement with society at the intellectual and, more generally, cultural level, and about contributing to the intellectual and cultural development of a critical citizenry.