“I’m not convinced that relationships between students and staff should be off bounds,” said speaker Eusebius McKaiser at a talk yesterday afternoon at the Wits Theatre Complex.

McKaiser was addressing the topic of  “student-staff intimacy: a requirement of effective teaching or a danger in a violent society?”

Eusebius Mckaiser tackling a burning issue during his talk on Thursday afternoon. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Eusebius Mckaiser tackling a burning issue during his talk on Thursday afternoon. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The notion of intimacy

As a point of departure, McKaiser let the audience know that the kind of intimacy he was going to talk about was a “non-sexual intimacy between students and staff.”

He stressed that in South Africa the knee-jerk understanding of intimacy is always associated with an erotic and sexual interpretation and this has come to defile the word.

Personal experiences with “intimate” teacher relations

“It takes one academic to have a profound, lifelong impact on a pupil,” said McKaiser. He went on to give examples of high school teachers who had impacted his life by taking a personal interest in him, one that went beyond a rigid teacher-student relationship.

The teachers that remain memorable to him are the ones who taught with a duty of care and not in an authoritative manner, said McKaiser.

He shared that the Rhodes University philosophy department understood the importance of personal contact with students. Lecturers in this particular department knew their students “beyond their student numbers”, said McKaiser.

The care with which this department handled him led to him dropping law, a department he described as being “cold and impersonal, with no emotional touch point.”

Intimacy is necessary

Intimacy was important in the sense that teachers need to take a deep and profound interest their students backgrounds.

“In South Africa this kind of intimacy which is not sexual but rather a sincere concern for the well-being of students is important. Many students do not speak English as a first language nor have enough social capital to excel in institutions,” McKaiser said.

Can’t avoid South African realities

McKaiser went on to say that while he promotes intimacy between students and staff, one cannot ignore the fact that there is violence on campus. Universities are not special spaces free from South Africa’s social ills.

He went on to say that, “monsters aren’t aliens,” they are the everyday people we interact with, as such even lecturers.”

Code of conduct also necessary

McKaiser said when he began lecturing Philosophy at Wits, he does not recall signing a code of conduct.

He recommended that the university should include mandatory codes of conduct regarding lecturer conduct in their contracts.

“A safety requirement is necessary in a place like South Africa,” he added.