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Unisa in a froth after professor says students spending allowances on wigs, not textbooks

Unisa said it viewed the professor's statements as "demeaning and derogatory". File photo.
Unisa said it viewed the professor's statements as "demeaning and derogatory". File photo.
Image: Dudu Zitha/Sunday Times

A professor at Unisa is in hot water for remarking that some of her students looked like they were spending their textbook allowances on wigs and nail polish, because of the poor quality of their work.

Screengrabs of her comments on social media were flagged with the institution.

The lecturer was commenting on data that showed the cash-for-textbooks allowance introduced by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in January has cost the book industry more than half a billion rands. Previously, the R5,000 book allowance was ring-fenced and could be spent only on learning materials.

" ... I am sure the money is being spent on wigs, nail polish, entertainment and other student 'essentials'," she said, according to the screengrabs.

"I work in higher education and from reading what students submit as assignments, it is patently obvious they read next to nothing.

" ... Vast majority of the students that I have taught are the kind that buy wigs."

On Friday, Unisa said it viewed the statements as “demeaning and derogatory remarks about students of the university”.

Her tweets and conduct were “extremely offensive and inconsistent with the values and ethos of the university”, said Unisa.

“It is also the university’s firm belief that the tweets ... contain racist undertones; and may also be in contravention of university policy.”

Notwithstanding the apology already issued by the lecturer, as well as a retraction of the tweets, Unisa said its principal and vice-chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya, “has directed the relevant authorities within the university to ensure that urgent action is taken against her”.

Makhanya said in the statement: "When we dealt with the problem of racism within our institution last year, working together with the South African Human Rights Commission, we gave a commitment that, as a university, we will confront and deal decisively with the spectre of racism whenever it rears its ugly head in our midst. Incidents of this nature should therefore be confronted head-on and with the necessary urgency to avoid the further polarisation of our society and to prevent damage to the reputation of our university."

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