UCT and the proposed academic boycott of Israel

As published in Daily Maverick, 10 March 2024

The University of Cape Town’s Senate convened on February 23 for a regular meeting, where the agenda included three separate motions calling for one or more of a range of responses to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. None of the three motions could be voted on that day following a loss of quorum before any of the motions could be tabled.

Liberal democracy: Roets, Vegter and van Staden

At this point in civilisation’s collapse, I’m tempted to celebrate any attempt to talk about ideas in political and moral theory that are of universal interest. Simultaneously, though, a concern regarding how low my own standards might have sunk leaps out from the idealistic fog.

The topic provoking that thought is something discussed in a recent set of columns in PoliticsWeb and DailyFriend, where Ernst Roets, Ivo Vegter and Martin van Staden debate what liberalism means, in respect of themes such as whether it can accommodate consequences such as negative impacts on individual liberty.

The concern arising from these columns is less that of the dearth of serious critical engagement, but more the prevalence of think-pieces that contribute to stupidity, or at least to filter bubble-driven entrenched views.

Vale, Eusebius McKaiser

Just a few hours after Eusebius McKaiser posted a recommendation to his social media networks, encouraging everyone to listen to Musa Motha, we learn that he has died at the age of 45.

His death was sudden, with no forewarning, and it was apparently an epileptic seizure that took him down. My deepest condolences to Nduduzo, and of course also all the other members of his intimate circle, that I never got to meet.

Currents and undertoads

Things have been rather adrift for some time, for many of us. Obviously Covid-19 for all of us, and then everyone’s other stuff – perhaps the same as before or perhaps changed, but always at least complicating the lives of the person dealing with their particular version of a life.

My novel story (as in “a new thing that one is dealing with”, also sometimes an escalation of an old thing) involves the last few years at the University of Cape Town, which has been in the news of late, for the same reasons spoken of in said news. As you’d expect.

Further notes on OpenAI and ChatGPT

Continuing with the theme of my previous post (on higher education and OpenAI), John Maytham invited me join him in discussion on CapeTalk to explore some of the implications of these AI tools for student assessment and the educational project. The audio on my side was not great, but it’s certainly audible, and the podcast is available here.

In any event, here’s a more structured version of what I said, and wanted to say. In his introduction, John referred to the comments made by other guests he’s had on the show, including by some friends of mine, but those contributions seem to have largely been focused on the implications of ChatGPT/OpenAI on human creativity, how it is identified (in light of these plausible simulacra), and the implications of that for culture.

The OpenAI chatbot and the future of higher education

There are many obvious ways to cheat in large (typically 1000+ students) undergraduate classes such as mine, and one of the frustrations one often has to deal with is the fact that while it might be easy to see — and to be relatively certain — that a student has committed academic dishonesty, it’s not always easy to prove that they have done so.

Epistemic exuberance at the dinner table

(This is the accepted manuscript of a recently published paper in Gastronomica: The Journal for Food Studies 22 (3), DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2022.22.3.78 | Image credit: Rachel Park via Unsplash.)

In “The ‘worst dinner guest ever’: On ‘gut issues’ and epistemic injustice at the dinner table” (Dean, 2022), Dr Megan Dean raises a number of provocative questions regarding not only the epistemic status of claims that eaters make regarding what they should (or can) eat or not eat, but also, regarding the moral and social obligations we should be cognisant of when inviting others to join our dinner tables in cases where they make claims relating to sensitivity, intolerance, or allergic reactions to certain foods.

Vaccine mandates, personal freedom and public health

A disclosure right up front, namely that I’m a member of the UCT Covid -19 Vaccine Mandate Panel, which is currently seeking comment on the draft vaccine mandate policy that we have drafted. (And, it’s no doubt also relevant that I’m a member of UCT’s Council, which will have to approve the final conditions of any mandate the panel proposes.)

Challenges to science communication in a post-truth World

This is an original manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Communicatio on November 8, 2021, available online here: Challenges to Science Communication in a Post-Truth World.


Communicating scientific research to a lay audience – or, for that matter, communicating any contestable or potentially controversial ideas in areas such as politics or policy – would be a significantly easier task if the audience agreed on what the relevant facts are, and also on the extent to which the facts are even relevant (rather than facts being regarded as of secondary importance to political or pragmatic interests).

The first issue (“what are the facts?”) is an empirical matter, and one which reasonable people can disagree on in situations of uncertainty or incomplete knowledge. The second issue is of more concern when communicating complex or possibly controversial ideas, particularly in light of the increased polarisation of opinion in public discourse, alongside an increasingly widespread mistrust of mainstream media and “authorities” in general.

Critical Race Theory and the SAIRR

Descendants of the founders of The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) have recently criticised the Institute for straying from their founding principles. While the SAIRR disagrees with Dr Heather Brookes’ (the granddaughter of the founder, Edgar Brookes) assessment, those who read the comments to the first piece would also note that her sentiment is shared by a previous member of their national executive, Prof. Hugh Corder, who resigned in the mid-90s thanks to perceiving this same value-drift occurring even then.