Two Senate committees have recommended that Stellenbosch University (SU) formally adopts the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (www.globalcodeofconduct.org) at its next Senate meeting in November 2019. The Research Ethics Committee of Senate made this recommendation at its scheduled meeting last week (Friday 30 August 2019) after the Research Committee of Senate earlier adopted a similar recommendation at its meeting on 14 August 2019.
The Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings was adopted as reference document for the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme in 2018.
The Stellenbosch University Senate first discussed the impact of the research article, Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Coloured South African women at its scheduled meeting on 31 May 2019 after SU came under the spotlight when the article was published in an international scientific journal, Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition. The editors and publishers of the journal in consultation with the authors afterwards retracted this article – a step strongly supported by SU.
Stellenbosch University acknowledged in a statement that the particular article caused offense and injured the human dignity of many South Africans, and apologised unconditionally for the severe trauma, pain and anger among members of the general public, Stellenbosch communities, University stakeholders and its campus community.
Since May, Senate and its sub-committees have thrown their weight behind a focused and concerted long-term institutional response to the issues brought to the fore by the article and related responses, for example interventions on SU campuses to address relevant themes like the role of race in scientific research and the transformation of the institutional culture of SU.
In a motion that was passed unanimously at the Senate meeting in May specific university structures were tasked with attending to certain concrete proposals. The following two matters were referred to the Academic Planning Committee (APC) of Senate:
That “consideration be given to offering a module on anti-racism, democracy and critical citizenship to all first-year students”.
That academic departments such as Gender and Critical Race Studies be institutionalised at SU.
The APC decided on a survey to determine which of these kinds of activities were already performed at SU.
Other proposals by Senate included:
- That “consideration be given to instituting a campus-wide mechanism dedicated to transforming research and science” at SU.
- That “a suite of short courses be offered by the Research Office for all staff members” at SU on topics such as “the use of human categories in research and science”. Research integrity is already covered in existing short courses, but the possibility of prescribed training in research ethics is being considered. In the meantime existing training initiatives would be expanded with a view to raise greater awareness.
In addition, the Research Committee of Senate made further recommendations at its meeting in August:
- That a process should be created for all SU social impact projects go through an ethics review.
- That compulsory training should be provided to members of the research ethics committees, staff and students, which should include awareness-raising initiatives around ethics code of conduct and SU policies and processes.
- That the institutional awareness of the risks of unethical behaviour in research should be raised via focused online training programmes and initiatives.
Running concurrently with these institutional initiatives is a comprehensive investigation into all aspects of the published article and processes guided by the SU Policy for Responsible Research Conduct, as well as the SU procedure for the investigation of allegations of breach of research norms and standards. After an initial investigation SU’s Research Integrity Officer requested Prof Eugene Cloete, Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies to appoint a Formal Investigation Committee to investigate specific allegations and processes.
This investigation is expected to be completed by the end of September 2019 and the outcome will be shared once all the processes have been concluded.
GLOBAL RESEARCH STANDARDS
“Although a single piece of research can in no way reflect the quality, ethics and values of SU’s stellar research programme, the incident has sparked serious discussions on our campuses about how individuals and communities are treated in research about them – not only at SU, but at all South African universities, and for some time already in academia globally,” says Prof Cloete.
“The improvement of global research standards has been on the international research agenda for more than a decade. African communities have in fact played a significant role in highlighting the exploitation of vulnerable communities, which contributed to the compilation of the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Research-poor Settings. In 2018 it was announced at a European Parliament workshop that the TRUST* Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings would become a reference document for the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Support for SU adopting the Code has been expressed in Senate committees and various other structures, and it will be tabled for formal adoption at the next Senate meeting in November 2019,” Prof Cloete added.
Launched in 2018, Prof Doris Schroeder, the Lead Author described the TRUST* Code of Conduct as “the very exciting high-point of 14 years of engagement on ethics dumping. In 2004, leaders of the San community in South Africa first explained to me how they felt exploited by researchers. Representatives of sex workers in Nairobi told me about their challenges in 2007.”
Two of the San leaders of the Kalahari that contributed to this initiative – Mr Andries Steenkamp and Mr Mario Mahongo – unfortunately passed away before the launch of the Code.
COMING UP – 16|09|2019: INAUGURAL LECTURE BY PROF JONATHAN JANSEN
Topic: From ‘die sedelike toestand van die kleurling’ to ‘the cognitive functioning of coloured women’: A century of research on coloured people at Stellenbosch University
“How does one explain the emergence (even re-emergence) of race essentialist research in the 21st century? More specifically, why is there still a body of research that insists on an inherent relationship between race and aptitude, attitudes and distinct social and behavioural outcomes? This lecture traces 100 years of race essentialist research at Stellenbosch University (SU) (1919–2019) through a careful study of SU dissertations and theses, in-house journals, commissions and stand-alone publications focused on the study of coloured people in Stellenbosch and the broader Western Cape. Drawing on a range of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, zoology, social work, psychology and medicine, the lecture will demonstrate that the recent and controversial SU article on coloured women’s cognitive functioning is not an aberration, but simply another publication in a seamless tradition of racial determinism that colours institutional research in every decade since the founding of the University. Changing such knowledge in the blood is a much more complex task than changing the terms of ethical review.”
16 September 2019 @ 18:00–19:00
Venue: MathScience/IndustPsych Building – Lecture Hall 1005
36 Merriman Avenue
Seating is limited. RSVP is essential: Celeste Mockey at tel: 021 808 2783 or email@example.com
The lecture can be followed online via live streaming at:
Additional background information:
“*TRUST was a pluralistic project, which aimed to foster adherence to high ethical standards in research globally and to counteract the practice of “Ethics dumping” or the application of double standards in research, by co-developing with vulnerable populations tools and mechanisms for the improvement of research governance structures. The TRUST project closed in December 2018. However, the TRUST consortium continues to be involved in efforts to reduce ethics dumping around the world. Visit: Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings.
“This Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings counters ethics dumping by:
providing guidance across all research disciplines
presenting clear, short statements in simple language to achieve the highest possible accessibility
focusing on research collaborations that entail considerable imbalances of power, resources and knowledge
using a new framework based on the values of fairness, respect, care and honesty
offering a wide range of learning materials and affiliated information to support the code
“Those applying the code will be researchers and research funders who oppose double standards in research and support long-term equitable research relationships between partners in lower-income and high-income settings based on fairness, respect, care and honesty.”