By Pinky Khoabane
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (Centre) with some of her “Mathematics Sisters”
TOO often the academic records of Black academics are put under scrutiny – most often for nothing more than sheer malice, as we’ve come to see through the years since the advent of our democracy and as recent as this past week, when a smear campaign was launched against Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Phakeng is an accomplished academic and is currently the deputy vice chancellor for research and internationalisation at University of Cape Town (UCT).
There are many academic charlatans in South Africa – both black and white. There are many professors, many more white than black, who hold no PhDs, whose peer reviewed publications are so shoddy they hardly make it on platforms such as GoogleScholar where serious scholars are found. They simply make it through as a result of the deeply incestuous networks found in academia.
An innocent albeit inaccurate post by one Sure Kamhunga, who lauded her credentials on Twitter led to questions about her credentials. Phakeng Twitter Handle is @FabAcademic but her followers call her Babes We Ncwadi.
“Meet SA’s Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng. PhD Mathematics M.Ed Mathematics, B.Ed Mathematics, BA Pure Mathematics. Absolutely amazing”, the tweet read. She holds a PhD in Mathematics Education.
Jamil Kahn responded:
“Honest question: Where does one get a BA in Mathematics? Is it not usually a BSc?”
And with that a debate ensued as to whether she had a PhD in Mathematics or not. An email questioning her PhD in Mathematics was “circulated on email to a distribution list of about 50 people, exclude Dr Price, all of who are associated with UCT”. Price is the vice chancellor at UCT.
In a post directed at Sure Kamhunga she wrote: “My PhD is in Mathematics Education. This is why my detractors think am fraud even though I never made claim. Please Correct”
In a letter to Staff and Students, Price responded in support of Phakeng.
“Dear colleagues and students
I write this in my capacity as a colleague and close team member of Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who has recently been denigrated and insulted in a couple of private emails which have nevertheless been quite widely circulated and are therefore in effect in the public domain. Hence it warrants a public response.
The one email states: “I believe she is not mathematically qualified at all… She has a “PhD in education of mathematics”. It might justify investigating … “ Thus the essence of the email is the suggestion that Professor Phakeng’s qualifications may be fraudulent and need to be investigated. As such it insults her integrity, her professionalism and her academic standing.
I am offended and saddened by this email thread. The email is mischievous – a quick internet search will show that she has an undergraduate major in pure mathematics. She is a distinguished academic with a NRF B2 rating and many local and international accolades. The innuendo also impugns the selection committee that appointed her as well as the University of the Witwatersrand that conferred her doctoral degree.
Furthermore, the implication that her scholarship is somehow dubious, (as implied by putting the “PhD in Mathematical Education” in inverted commas) is an insult to her and thousands of educationists who undertake PhD level scholarship in the field of education, as any review of the academic literature in education will show.
These may be the views of only one or two individuals, and I should note that these individuals are not members of staff, nor are they familiar with the DVC’s performance. However, the easy spamming of large numbers of recipients via personally addressed email is used to smear people and denigrate them with almost no ability for them to reply. The tone of the communication and the unguarded nature of the comments creates the impression that the views being expressed are widely shared by the members of the email group.
I have previously communicated to the authors that I believe an apology to Professor Phakeng and all the addressees is needed.
I have also suggested to those who received the email that unless they support the authors’ views, they should distance themselves from the doubt expressed about Professor Phakeng’s qualifications and competence – and indicate that they will refuse to collude with the smear, if necessary by asking to be removed from the list, as some have already done.
I wish to state emphatically that I have full confidence in my colleague’s qualifications, competence and performance in her portfolio, and that there is certainly no reason for any investigation into her qualifications. My executive are proud to have Professor Phakeng as part of our team.
Dr Max Price