Lead across divisions

Prof. Jonathan Jansen (pic courtesy Timeslive)

Written by Jonathan Jansen

You come into leadership at a difficult time in our country's history. You have seen the wanton violence of youth as they destroyed the inner-city of Johannesburg around Luthuli House.

You have heard a resurgent racial rhetoric in our country that once again threatens to divide us.

You have felt the rage of the poor and unemployed who feel they are not being heard by their local authorities.

Yet you come to lead on a campus that all who pass through it experience as a place of renewal and a project of hope. You have witnessed the once bitter divisions in the residences being overcome through the leadership of students.

You were part of the celebrations when the UFS held its first truly non-racial elections in 2011, when black students voted for a white man and white students for a black woman.

We have not arrived. Much remains to be done.

We need to increase the number of black students in the allied health sciences, like optometry and physiotherapy. We need to increase the number of white students in law and social work. We need more bursaries for poor students who achieve excellent academic results. We need to find better ways of feeding hungry students. And we need to overcome with love and discipline the small groups of students who still find their refuge in racial anger, the intolerance of their fellow students, and disrespect for their leaders.

What do you need to know from me as your leader?

• I will not compromise on academic standards. We are going to increase with every year the academic demands on new students and on continuing students. The predicate that allows you to write an examination; the percentage pass mark that allows you into higher degrees; the academic mark that qualifies you to move into residence; and the points that allow you to stand for SRC leadership - all these marks will remain high as we establish the UFS as South Africa's leading academic university.
• I will not give up on the quest for human togetherness. We have taken the first steps. Many, not all, of the residences are now integrated by choice and not by policy. More friendships are being forged across the lines that divide this nation. Most of our public events bring together our students in natural, voluntary association. We must work harder to achieve the goal of human togetherness.

What do I expect from you as our student leaders?

• I expect you in your personal example to maintain high academic standards and to model ways of crossing racial, ethnic and language bridges.
• I expect you to give all students a felt sense that they are being listened to, and that their needs are being addressed; the future of the SRC as an institution depends on how well you are able to close even further the credibility gap between students and authority.
• I expect you to build a new campus culture marked by respect for people and for property. Littering, theft, racism, the exploitation of women, the abuse of social media, binge drinking, violence, the playing of the race card or ethnic card - all of these are signs of a decrepit societal and campus culture.
• I expect you to challenge the attack on decency and on the transformation of the campus by abusive and violent groups attached to narrow and divisive party politics, and to an outdated appeal to skin affiliation.
• I expect you to interact and challenge the senior leadership of the university on matters of campus transformation and student interests in general. But I insist that you do so through reasoned argument and mutual respect; I do not listen to angry people.
• I expect you to take the opportunity to learn how to become leaders on a world stage. I will insert into the 2012 budget sufficient funds for you to shadow global leaders and to participate in world-class training programmes that enable you to lead anywhere during and beyond your time on campus.
• I expect you, finally, to demonstrate to campus and country that it is possible, even in these dire times, to have student leaders whose lives are powerful examples of academic excellence and human togetherness.

Remind all our people that the future is hopeful, after all.

(This story was provided and used with permission by Timeslive.)