The responsibility to address social problems in higher education institutions

A student observed that critical citizenship "does not just involve you or your

career, I think it is more of how you even interact on a day to day basis____I

don't think it just involves what you do as a scientist" (Chemistry Student). The notion of personal responsibility as closely tied to conceptions of citizenship often emerged in the interviews. However, to what extent the university as a social institution could be held responsible to address social issues and foster critical citizenship was contested. Hence, the second question aimed to investigate the importance of critical citizenship or social responsibility within individual curricula and universities' institutional cultures. There was strong dispute about whether this imperative should be interpreted as an implicit ethos of the university, cultivated by individual attitudes and beliefs, or whether it should be a formalized educational venture.

A frequent remark was that critical citizenship is what is being done already in classrooms and on the campus without being forced:

But I think that is part of what we do in class then, in a tertiary class . . . [to] bring various perspectives to the classroom for students to work with and [to] critically think about them to make more effective choices in how they are better citizens (Theology lecturer)

One of the art lecturers stated: "If you are teaching at a university, you are already a critical thinker."

A chemistry lecturer explained that "in a laboratory, I think is one of the most dynamic areas where critical citizenship happens spontaneously, without you having to force it."

While the "unforced" flourishing of critical citizenship qualities in students is ideal, it is more likely that the academic in this case is conflating "critical citizenship" with cooperation between individuals. This presumption of the spontaneity of development of critical citizens can quickly absolve the institution or the individual academics from taking responsibility for this process. As one Art lecturer put it: "By virtue of being academics and by virtue of working in an interdisciplinary way our research will be critical citizenship." Such comments indicate a rather naive or "thin" (Walker 2005) understanding of critical citizenship among some of the lecturers.

Other academics emphasized the individual responsibility that lecturers need to take, and that leading by example is the only way to ensure social responsiveness: "It is more about the attitude that you cultivate, through the example that you set, the things that you say" (Chemistry Lecturer); "The only way I can make students more aware is to now and then mention something about society, and yes to give leadership and give examples" (Chemistry Lecturer); "And if it is sort of something that the lecturer takes on board, like as an approach and reinforces it sort of everyday then it becomes, then it is not something extra, it is actually just my course really" (Chemistry Lecturer). Some academics argued strongly that the cultivation of critical and responsible attitudes should be reliant on the convictions or ethical behavior of the lecturers, and the formalization of such a concept is problematic:

So the reason within the social sciences is that our students are sensitive to discourse of critical citizenship is precisely because it is not imposed on them. It is because it is generated out of the convictions of their lecturers and it is not packaged as critical citizenship. But had this been packaged as critical citizenship and had it been something even from within a deep sense of conviction that we addressed as such I think it would be somewhat artificial and I think to impose this on disciplines where to us it is not apparent is problematic and unnecessary. (Art Lecturer)

The notion that the university itself has an ethical and historical responsibility to foster critical citizenship emerged too: "The most important thing about a university is that it is a place of learning, that it is a knowledge facilitator, that it challenges the norm and the boundaries and universities come from philosophical thinking" (Art Lecturer). There were many lecturers who felt that such responsibility fell beyond their personal parameters as teachers. This constraint could relate to time: "To now go and address social problems in the class—I just do not have time for that. That is unfortunately how it is" (Chemistry Lecturer); but it could also relate to the scope of the discipline:

If you mean politically, then definitely no, it's not going to find a place in a chemistry course, I . . . I don't feel that it will find recognition in a chemistry course, and I don't feel it's my task to cultivate it in a student in that way. (Chemistry Lecturer)

This is in direct opposition to Badat's argument that drawing strict distinctions between academic work and imperatives to address social transformation are problematic. Badat argues that the "powers conferred by academic freedom go hand in hand with substantive duties to deracialise and decolonize intellectual spaces" (Badat, cited in Hasan and Nussbaum 2012, 128). This raises a crucial question of how one might usefully address issues of critical citizenship in a purely scientific course, and indeed, whether one would want to.

It was noted that the university environment itself poses a challenge to address social issues adequately, as it is fraught with racial problems that themselves reproduce social tensions and inequalities. One lecturer argued that "these people in power don't realize that their decisions are racist" (Arts Lecturer), and that the university is

a safe space for certain people ja. But not for everybody. I mean we had a first year fine arts student last year . . . [he] was doing brilliantly but he just opted out. It was just too difficult for him to be the only black student in the first year group. (Art Lecturer).

Another suggested that problems in the university are related to

perhaps of a constructed space that greater Stellenbosch . . . I think that there is a historical effect on the placement and spaces, such as Kayamandi versus central Stellenbosch, that people are unable to sort of cross that divide. (Chemistry Lecturer)

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