Open Letter to Old Rhodians
From Ian McGregor
There is little doubt in my mind that re-branding the University will negatively impact funding. Having spoken to numerous graduates of the 60s and early 70s the fact that the name change is being debated has already distanced many graduates from their university, and stalled any plans they may have had to give to Rhodes.
Two points I'd like to make:
The university I went to was one of the few voices that actively took
on the formidable power and ruthlessness of the ruling nationalist
government. Rhodes University in the 60s was an outspoken critic of
apartheid and as a result the university received lower per student
educational grants from the government, student leaders were harassed
and some even banned. We were branded "commies” and even traitors. But
we were proud of being Rhodians and to be on the right side of history.
So in our minds, Rhodes University stood for much more than Cecil John
Rhodes. Its reputation was built more on modern politics than
identification with the founder and his values. The dark side of Cecil
John Rhodes’ legacy was never a factor as like so many industrial barons he operated according to a set of principles and standards in play at the time. He was "old fashioned” by our standards.
So we were proud to be Rhodians, to hold the moral high ground. Through our actions we helped define Rhodes University as liberal, forward thinking, steadfast in the face of Government intimidation and
harassment. To now abandon that heritage through a name change seems a
betrayal of the contribution Rhodes University and its students made
toward helping create the "new South Africa.”
This leads to my second point which is the impact on donations. All the 60s and 70s graduates are entering a life stage where philanthropy
becomes a higher priority. They have reached their financial ambitions,
want to give back, are thinking about legacy, and so are evaluating
their options. Will they give to an institution that is about to forsake its modern history, erase its positive contribution to the new South Africa, all in the name of judgment of an historic figure from over 100 years ago.
The truth is that alumni have been warily eying the name-change discussions and I believe have held back from donating. I know I have and until the mature heads win out over the hot heads, my hands are firmly in my pockets.
Rhodes University, 1966-1969