Chancellor's Address to the Graduation Sequent to Investiture
DR REUEL J KHOZA
4 MAY 2022
Mr MC, Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande
MEC: Education in KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Kwazi Mshengu
Chair of the UKZN Council, Dr Leticia Moja;
Vice Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku
Members of the Provincial Executive Management
Members of Council Past and Present
Members of University Senate;
Members of the University Executive Management;
Members of the Convocation Executive Past and Present;
Members of the Student Representative Council;
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
Cicero is of the opinion that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others”. To which St Ambrose adds that “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” May I please express my deep sense of gratitude to you for the honour extended to me by inviting me to be Chancellor of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Please allow me to acknowledge in our midst my wife and daughters, my esteemed friend and mentor, Professor Muxe Nkondo as well as our family friends Professor and Mrs Paulus Zulu.
This is a special day for students, parents, and the university, rated one of the best in Africa and the world. On the part of students, it has been hard work. It required effort, determination, and persistence in the form of challenges and setbacks, particularly during the COVID-19 Pandemic, with all its radical uncertainties. In order to learn, you had to focus your attention, listen to your lecturers often via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webinars, and expend mental energy participating constructively in academic and professional tasks. In fact, this kind of wholehearted (and whole-headed) participation in academic and professional work, is a necessary condition for learning and a precondition for long-term success at the university and beyond. The lecturers have to be commended for promoting and sustaining your engagement in your work as students. Of course, your parents and guardians have to be commended for initiating and shaping the way you learn, the way you define yourself and relate to other people, and how you imagine yourself in the world. This graduation ceremony is an acknowledgement of your capacity to determine your life and the immense possibilities that lie ahead.
It is your energy, vigour, and intensity that is in display here, your sense of direction and purpose, your tenacity and commitment. For the university leadership, motivational resilience, at its core, entails constructive energy focused on the hard work of learning: effort, enthusiasm, interest, and commitment, sustained on a daily basis over three or more years, and robust even in the face of obstacles and difficulties. The lecturers have to be commended for promoting and managing the quality and intensity of your ongoing engagement as well as to what happens to your engagement when you run into trouble: how you react and cope, and how you can maintain or recover your forward momentum so you can re-engage with challenging academic and professional tasks.
The university leadership is also concerned with processes of emotional vulnerability, in COVID-19 and related crises, including the ways that you as students become disaffected, how disaffection can trigger emotional reactivity and maladaptive coping when you encounter challenges or problems, and how your reactions can compromise your capacity to recover from setbacks. At times, it feels like walking on hot coals, a process that has to be handled with utmost care. If this had not been done, you might have given up in the face of demanding academic and professional work.
The need for competence, which refers to your desire to experience yourselves as effective in producing positive and preventing negative outcomes, constitutes the vision and mission of the university and the entire educational system. Students who succeed at university are those who have what it takes to succeed, and they always show higher levels of effort and cumulative performance. In the same vein, students who lack self-confidence tend to underperform. But apart from performance, the learning experience focuses on how you relate to others in a society of differences – differences of race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality. It also seeks to inculcate in you a sense of belonging, but citizenship is not just status or privilege, but a responsibility to all the others beyond borders and boundaries of all sorts. It is an ethical obligation not restricted to territorial boundaries or frontiers.
This graduation ceremony takes us to the vision and mission of the university and to higher education generally. The ability to think deeply and systematically as a way of knowing the world is only part of the story. Coupled with that is the emotional, social, and ethical disposition to recognize the humanity of the next person across borders of all kinds. In a society riddled with gender-based violence, it has to do with recognizing women as fundamentally human. If she has limitations, if she errs, your education should enable you to recognize your limitations in her limitations. It should, therefore, expand your moral imagination. Knowledge unsupported by feeling and attitude is not enough, and can be very dangerous. In recent years, it has created a discrepancy between what people know and say they value, and how they feel about the next person. So we need to ensure that what we teach and how we teach serves to integrate thinking, feeling, attitude, and behaviour.
This is a complex intellectual, social, psychological, political, and ethical challenge. But the classroom cannot do it alone. The family, where thinking, feeling, attitude, and behaviour begin and are shaped, should be roped in as a policy instrument to assist the university. Now it is treated largely as a private institution. This is urgent at a time when there is a decline in public confidence, and a shift from representative to participatory democracy. Elected democracy is losing its legitimacy as an ordering and transformative force.
The need to design transformative curricula and pedagogies that are relevant, develop teaching and learning practices, and integration of information and communication technologies is increasingly gaining scholarly and public attention.
There is a growing concern that our educational practices have not evolved to match the need for fundamental change. It is also widely recognized that the complexities of our society and the world, place huge demands on young people to acquire not only conceptual skills but technically exploitable knowledge. This has been inadequate for practical coping and everyday life, as well as in professional practices. They are also seen as falling short in terms of developing good global citizenship, social responsibility, creativity, and ethical conduct. Our collective future will depend on higher education’s ability to cultivate the integration of thinking, feeling, attitude, and doing. So our educational practice should reflect, embody, and express these values, principles, and objectives. Importantly, academic curricula should be derived from the world of work, the so called real world, in order to ensure compatibility of their quiet knowledge with job requirements.
The opportunities for the integration of knowledge and ethics are huge. The interest in participating in integrative processes is growing and we are in the midst of dramatic changes in our educational, economic, and political landscapes. This trend will only intensify in the coming years. Our success as universities will be measured to the extent that we realize the inherent potentialities for making our institutions, where knowledge, experiences, ethics, emotions, and actions come together, to bring about fundamental change in human relations.
Going forward, universities will have to adapt rapidly to the rapidly changing globalizing knowledge economy and network society. They have to develop new curriculum and governance paradigms and embrace new, innovative perspectives if they have to survive the sea changes required by new information and communication technologies, new social and economic needs, and new financial constraints. They will need to undergo a new transformation even greater than in the First Industrial Revolution, when the modern university emerged. Each university should provide an all-encompassing and imaginative strategy to guide government, civil society, and the private sector into the era of fundamental change in social, economic, and political relations.
Wisdom, knowledgeability and character will remain the cardinal objective of education. Signs and technology must continue with their investigative imperative; commerce with it’s refinement and enhancement of sustainability; law with it’s focus on regulatory obligations; philosophy and the behavioral sciences with their character building and inculcation of ethical conduct.
In concluding I can do no better than quote a leading Black American thinker and former slave, Frederick Douglass: “Our destiny is largely in our hands. If we find, we shall have to seek. If we succeed in the race of life it must be by our own energies, and our own exertions. Others may clear the road, but we must go forward, or be left behind in the race of life. If we remain poor and dependent, the riches of other men will not avail us. If we are ignorant, the intelligence of other men will do but little for us. If we are foolish, the wisdom of other men will not guide us. If we are wasteful of time and money, the economy of other men will only make our destitution the more disgraceful and hurtful.”