Stellenbosch University Rector and Vice Chancellor Wim de Villiers says he was “appalled” and in “disbelief” following the publication of a research article which assessed the cognitive functioning of a sample of 60 coloured women from the same region…

The study, conducted on women aged between 18 and 64, claimed that the women presented with “low cognitive function and which is significantly influenced by education”. The study was labelled racist and offensive following its circulation during the Easter weekend.

At a symposium on restructuring science and research held at the university’s library auditorium on Tuesday, De Villiers revealed that he “initially learned about it and its claims with a sense of disbelief”.

“Reading it in detail, I was appalled and saddened: How could this work – given its insensitivity and the unnecessary pain it caused so many people – possibly have emanated from our university?” asked De Villiers, in a message played for the audience in attendance.

De Villiers is currently overseas on university business.

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He said, in hindsight, it was an opportunity for the institution to reflect on how it conducted its studies.

“I had to reflect long and hard about what it is that our university is doing when it comes to research practices.”

Following backlash over the research, the university issued an apology on April 30 and revealed that the study would be investigated for allegations of breaches of research norms and standards.

De Villiers echoed the apology, saying he would not defend the indefensible.

“Let me use this opportunity to once again repeat that apology… to the 60 women who were interviewed in the study, to so-called coloured women in general, and to the public at large. I deeply regret the hurt this article has caused fellow South Africans.

“I would ideally want an eventual outcome to be a protocol detailing how we should deal with the issue of ‘race’ in research in an ethically sound way. This would ideally be an important contribution that Stellenbosch University can make to the South African higher education sector,” he added.

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