South Africa: Stellenbosch University Apologises for Coloured Women Study, Promises Investigation

Stellenbosch University has apologised for trauma caused by a research article which assessed the cognitive function of a sample of 60 South African coloured women aged between 18 and 64.

The study found that the women presented with “low cognitive function and which is significantly influenced by education”.

The highly-criticised study, titled Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women was widely labelled racist and offensive since it was circulated on social media over the Easter weekend.

Initially, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, innovation and postgraduate studies, Professor Eugene Cloete, said the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the article were those of the authors alone.

At the time, Cloete also said that although the university acknowledged the importance of the “rigorous academic discussion and critical debate” following its publication, it was “concerned about the pain and anger” the article solicited within the academic community and broader society.

In an email sent to students and staff on Tuesday, Cloete said: “We apologise unconditionally for the pain and the anguish which resulted from this article. We also have empathy towards current and past staff members, our students and our alumni who have had to endure criticism for their association with our institution.”

“The rectorate has therefore decided to request a thorough investigation into all aspects of this study, guided by the Stellenbosch University’s Policy for Responsible Research Conduct, as well as the university’s procedure for the investigation of allegations of breach of research norms and standards. Based on the outcome of this investigation, we will take corrective action, as required.”

Cloete added that during the university’s centenary year – which was in 2018 – they adopted a restitution statement acknowledging the university’s role towards the injustices of the past. He said they would proceed with the investigation [of the breach of research norms of the article] and provide the outcome when it has been concluded.

The Psychological Society of South Africa’s (PsySSA) Division for Research and Methodology (DRM) denounced the study saying it was “strongly opposed to the practice of misusing classification in scientific research and the consequent perpetuation of stigma, discrimination and racism within society” as exemplified by the study.


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