INAUGURATION OF VUT CHANCELLOR ADVOCATE PANSY TLAKULA 31 JULY 2010
This ceremony represents those “magic” special occasions that are so vital in building “significance” into the collective life of any institution. These occasions Ladies and Gentlemen or rituals such as this inauguration are always characterized by moments of ecstasy and exclamation points, that mark life’s major passages. Without these rituals and ceremonies, transitions remain incomplete, a clutter of comings and goings. Life becomes an endless set of Wednesdays (Bolman & Deal). Since today’s ceremony or ritual is so authentic and attuned to the spirit of Higher Education, it has fired our imaginations to evoke insights and has touched the hearts of all those who came to celebrate with us. It is Madam Chancellor, ceremonies such as this one, that weave together past, present and future into the ongoing life tapestry of the institution.
It is such rituals like graduations and inaugurations that keep organisations and their communities to face and comprehend life’s everyday shocks, triumphs especially the inner lives of organisations / institutions. These rituals allow us to experience those unseen webs of significance that tie individuals and communities together. Such ceremonies Madam Chancellor give flesh to shared values and sacred beliefs. Such ceremonies Ladies and Gentlemen, bring many heartwarming moments and dramatic encounters. Such ceremonies fill an institution’s treasure chest with lore and legend. Told and retold, they draw people together and so connect them with the significance of this “habitas or space” called the University. Work in such a “shared space” can be exhilarating and joyful at its best, arduous, frustrating and exhausting in less happy moments.
Many of us from the academic fraternity embarked on our careers with enthusiasm, confidence and a desire to make a contribution. Some never lose that spark or calling, but many do. However Madam Chancellor, given your very diverse work experience, one can comfortably claim that you have definitely not lost that spark of making a difference across the various areas and diverse careers or work environments within which you have operated.
The types of responsibilities you’ve had from being a teacher, human rights champion and now Independent Electoral Commission is best captured in the following maxim: “Good teachers put snags in the river of children passing by, and over time they redirect hundreds of lives”. Your career paths bear evidence to this. It is career paths like yours Madam Chancellor that seem to have an “innocence”, that conspires to hold humanity together, and you Madam Chancellor, may never fully know the depth of your contribution to our university, region and country. Thus, organisations without a new symbolic life become hollow and sterile. However, today’s occasion points to the contrary.
It is within this context, coupled with your work experience, that the Vaal University of Technology has deemed it fit to honour you with this symbolic position in our institution. But the question stands, do you really know the arena that you will be operating in?
Looking back I can comfortably claim that this university, despite the turbulence we have experienced, stands at the threshold where three distinct scenarios could emerge, namely the Low Road, the Do Nothing Road and the High Road. These scenarios mark the various transitions we have made. Firstly, the Low Road, where we have been able to fix the basics – what I prefer to call Consolidation, viz:
This was followed in the last two years by what I can best term as “Stabilisation” of the institution. Our proud achievements over this period are the following:
With this panoply in relief, it is obvious that our institution comes from a “low road” scenario planning. The risk we faced then is what Albert Einstein calls “Insanity” – i.e. doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is tantamount to doing nothing – the second scenario I referred to earlier.
Our strategy realignment process Madam Chancellor is targeted at taking VUT onto the “High Road” scenario. It is about leaving the shackles of the past behind and breaking through into the promise of what a South African University of Technology should be.
VUT has thus identified the need to reinvent itself. In strategy sessions throughout the University , the following new vision statement was formulated to make a distinct break from the past.
“We are a university that leads in innovative knowledge and
quality technology education”.
The vision statement reflects the aspirations of the University over the next five years. It emphasizes the need for the University to change tact in an increasingly knowledge intensive world.
The vision is clearly student-centric – and the university’s teaching methods would be geared to teach students how to continue to create knowledge outside the walls of the campus – hence the emphasis on innovative knowledge. Innovation is the use of existing knowledge to create new products and services. Quality cuts across the end-to-end education process in VUT. Quality dimension in teaching methods, quality in learning styles, quality in teaching infrastructure, quality in management, and so on.
The differentiation from a traditional university is made by emphasizing technology education. Technology would permeate every aspect of the curriculum; and students graduating out of VUT would be technology literate, irrespective of the type of course studied. This will make them ready for the world of work.
Our mission is to produce top quality employable graduates who can make an impact to society by
Madam Chancellor, the implications for such a vision and mission are that:
Whilst the vision statement relates to “tomorrow”, the mission has to do with the here and now. The success of the mission of VUT would be measured by the employability of their graduates. This would force the university to constantly align its curriculum to the needs of the society and in doing so, would continually remain relevant. The twin motive of the employability and impact is a daunting undertaking for the University but one worthy of pursuing as this will help turn the reputation of the University around. This ties back to the motive, of not only concentrating on high graduate rates, but high quality graduates thus linking it back to the Vision.
Madam Chancellor, the question is: What then is the Sky Map or High Road to achieve the vision and mission. As champion, I’ve set myself the following strategic objectives:
Madam Chancellor, as you are no stranger to the academic world – in fact I should acknowledge that your academic record shows that you are a high flyer – I am confident that your inauguration comes at the right time when we are busy recrafting our academic image towards our desired future. Your experiences at the Human Rights Commission, the Independent Electoral Commission and Harvard University, to name but a few, put you in an ideal position to navigate VUT through the challenges, that face us, as we pull ourselves together to hit the High Road, I have just referred to.
Madam Chancellor, your appointment to such a heuristic and visible position could not have come at a more appropriate time. It is a time for looking back over the past few years, a time of letting go, and crafting a new visionary path for VUT. I trust that my oration gives you a glimpse to the first question that may have hit you when you learnt of your appointment as Chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology. These are the issues we would like to put before and draw from your leadership – to make “Mission impossible possible”. It is said, “A successful inauguration will serve to unite those with a stake in the future of the university and the entire university family – students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, friends and donors – with a common understanding of the university and a vision of its future.”
It is also said, “An inauguration acts not only as an opportunity for a university to look ahead to its future while honoring its traditions, but it is also as an official recognition of the entrance of a “special person” into the academic leadership of an institution. VUT is truly honoured to have you, Madam Chancellor, born not far from these precincts, to help us take the High Road.
This ritual and the traditions surrounding it come a long way. The rituals of this investiture invoke a very distant, medieval past, a time when the university was still closely connected to the church and its idea of study and scholarship, hence the academic gowns we wear, the hoods and caps, all reminiscent of priestly garb.
Finally, having sketched my vision, mission and very bold aspirations for the desired future of this University, you may want to ask this question, how do you know if what you see, is what’s really there? How do you avoid championing the wrong strategy or tackling the wrong problem? Even well-trained professionals make devastating mistakes, Madam Chancellor.
Consider the following metaphor: the crew of a jet airliner, taking off from New York City. Noting surprisingly high airspeed readouts, the puzzled crew attributed them to unusual updrafts. They did not realise that before takeoff they had missed a crucial checklist item: turning on heaters to prevent freeze-up in the airspeed indicators.
So the pilot kept easing back on the throttles to get the speed down. When the control stick began to shake, the crew interpreted it as a “Mach buffet” – an indication they were approaching the speed of sound. It was actually a stall warning. These were professional pilots, trained to know the difference in a highly technical environment. But by the time the crew members recognised their error, their aircraft was plunging to the ground, hopelessly out of control. Plane and crew were both destroyed. The costs of misreading a situation can be dire – in an airplane, business, government, even more so, in a University. Hence, your role and responsibilities as a titular head, will make an invaluable contribution to help navigate us towards our desired future. Hence our new strapline:
Mission Impossible is our Mission!
ONCE MORE, WELCOME TO VUT
FEEL AT HOME
Prof. I.N. Moutlana
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
31 July 2010
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