Stellenbosch University (SU) must be serious in its efforts to make its institutional culture more multilingual, more inclusive and more welcoming towards everybody, said Professor Russel Botman, Rector, at the launch of the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) strategy for "Making Equality, Diversity and Transformation happen" on Thursday 22 March.
Botman said in 2007 he had dedicated his first term to making SU more significant to more people in South Africa. The impact of the HOPE project, which has led to an inflow of more than R1 billion, has moved the University closer to the achievement of this goal.
"My next term officially starts next month, and I took it on only because I believe SU belongs to all the people of this country and must be a home to all. High on my agenda will be driving equality, diversity and transformation throughout the University. Morality demands that we right the wrongs of the past, and work together to create a more just future.
"But there is also a pragmatic reason. If we don't get these things right, the University's window of opportunity will close and we will slip increasingly into isolation, not connected to the mainstream of our society," Botman said.
He said in its Institutional Plan for 2012 to 2016, the University is renewing its commitment to improvement in terms of the knowledge base of the University, the diversity of its staff and student bodies, student success and systemic sustainability.
"Renewal will not happen on its own. We will only be able to achieve it with active citizenship, transformative leadership, and above all by encouraging a campus culture that welcomes a diversity of people and ideas. Without diversity, we are unlikely to encourage a community of critical thinkers with the ability to push the boundaries of learning and discovery towards significance and relevance," Botman said.
The Rector said he endorses the work of the FHS to promote equality, inclusivity and human rights and values its leadership in this regard.
The Dean of the FHS, Professor Jimmy Volmink, said he had commissioned a study last year to find out where issues of equality, diversity and transformation (ED&T) have helped or hindered student success.
Volmink said the FHS was in the process of redefining its values, which are currently integrity, excellence, commitment and accountability, to also include inclusivity and innovation. "These values are not new, but intrinsic to our Faculty and we are now making them explicit. We recognise our work on ED&T is a long term process and it gives us real opportunity to live our values. I want to ensure that our ED&T strategy and action plan makes a real difference to the way in which people work, share, learn and live together in the Faculty."
He said the implementation of the strategy is at the heart of creating a people-first, inclusive environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and where the talent and skills of diverse students and staff are valued, where productivity improves because everyone will be more motivated, and where people are engaged and more aware of the benefits that inclusion can bring.
"Getting relationships right in our teaching, learning, research, clinical and working environment will also enhance relationships with our key stakeholders and the wider community. Proactive action on ED&T will have a significant positive impact on our brand reputation, will drive institutional excellence and help us attract new sources of funding," Volmink said.
Ms Dianna Yach, the author of the study, said its purpose was to determine whether the FHS is a welcoming and inclusive environment for students and staff to reach their full potential and thereby promote the optimal health of diverse communities.
She said the next steps in terms of implementing the strategy included action planning sessions with departments, divisions and centres within the FHS on including ED&T in their strategic planning and performance assessment. The Faculty would also be developing a confidential independent complaints process for ED&T issues involving Equality Champions to be recruited from amongst students and staff.
Yach said in terms of making ED&T happen, the Faculty is committed to creating an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every person flourishes, individual human rights are valued and protected and the highest standards of professionalism and social justice are attained.
She said the FHS will strive to recruit, nurture and retain students, Faculty and staff that reflect the diversity of the South African society and foster an inclusive environment of mutual respect and fairness where all can learn, research and work free of discrimination, whether overt or hidden.
"Our responsibilities include promoting equality, inclusivity and human rights our day to day activities, avoiding the use of language or behaviour that may have the effect of discriminating or causing offense to others, challenge the use of such behaviour and bring it to the attention of the appropriate people and contributing to meeting ED&T commitments and standards," Yach said.