The focus of Professor Seepe’s lecture was on how UMP, as a relatively new and young institution, was in the very fortunate position of being able to craft its own culture.
"The societies from which we come from and that surround us, affect how we behave, and such behaviour need to be changed if we have any hope of making the right changes to our current culture.
The answer to making these changes, lies in changing the mental models we have become accustomed to, given our history and the ‘legacy’ of apartheid. Lastly, he argues that the answer to changing these mental models lies in a person-centred institutional culture; that by giving people a sense of responsibility and belonging it is possible to change out-dated mental models, and also combat the negative cultures we experience within society today.
Almost every definition points out that culture comprises ideas, customs, and the social behaviour of a particular people or society. Other definitions simply define culture as a way of life, lifestyle, customs, traditions, heritage, habits, social morals and values. It is these habits, these social morals that students, workers, and academics bring when they enter a university. They bring therefor all their social and societal prejudices with them.
At the moment, society is characterised by a culture of protests, a society characterized by a culture of destruction, a culture of entitlement and a culture of violence.
These are already cultures we do not really want in our societies, so how do we keep them out of our university? Before addressing the question, it is important to understand where these behaviours and cultures come from.”
History, culture and mental models
Professor Seepe continued: “Let’s first look at mental models and how our history has shaped these and in turn influenced the cultures we find within our societies today.
The reading of history is a matter of perspective. While there may have been some material and notable changes and achievements over the last almost three decades, there has been minimal change in terms of ideas and the mental models we use to make sense of the world. It is these perspectives, these ideas, these mental models that continue to inform our behaviour and attitudes.
This is important because without the chains of apartheid, UMP is allowed to start afresh. They are not bound by old values systems that have been put in place, there is no old order that drives ideas and notions, and they can do things anew, because they literally have a blank slate with which to work.
The only challenge then comes from the outside, where people live in societies and in cultures where the old order does still exist, where we do things a certain way, simply because they have always been done that way, and because our experiences have shaped how we react and behave in certain situations (mental models). There is a symbiotic and mutually reinforcing relationship between the mental models we use on the one hand, and our daily and cultural practices on the other.
A person-centred culture is inclusive and quite different from the variations we have seen over the years. So how do we get there?“
Ownership, responsibility and belonging
In closing he noted that ownership is personal. When people own something they protect it, people do not destroy what belongs to them.
“Students and staff, who consider the university as belonging to them, are unlikely to support or encourage any destruction of what they cherish. It would seem to me that we need to have a sense of ownership if we are to adopt the culture of responsibility.
In highlighting the importance of culture within the university, in showing what is valued and will be preserved, promoted and upheld, the University of Mpumalanga, has by default, allowed for the creation of a person-centred culture; one that cultivates a sense of ownership and of belonging and of responsibility.
They have also done this not only in word, but in deed and action as well, with the direction, directives and example, coming from the top. “It is through our behaviour that we set an example at the leadership level. If we are going to talk about introducing a person-centred culture, it starts at the top.”
@ This is the edited version of the public lecture delivered by Professor Sipho Seepe of the University of Zululand.