Apartheid's Professor: A.H. Murray and the Perils of Academic Liberalism in South Africa
The question of why and how social institutions absorb political ideologies dedicated to the pursuit of great injustice is an abiding puzzle. During her Center appointment Professor Barnes addresses a piece of the puzzle: What role did liberal higher education play in the development and reproduction of apartheid as ideology and practice? She will be working on a book manuscript about the relationship between liberalism and academic freedom in South Africa during the apartheid era, as seen through the lens of the career of Professor Andrew Howson Murray (1905-1997) of the University of Cape Town (UCT).
A self-proclaimed liberal institution, UCT declared its adherence both to academic freedom and to paternalist discourses of “racial uplift” for black South Africans in which notions of white cultural supremacy were firmly embedded. At the same time Murray headed UCT’s Philosophy Department and taught the university’s major classes in political philosophy, he supported the apartheid project as a public intellectual, censor, commissioner, and prosecution trial witness. UCT never rebuked or censured Murray for any of these activities. Indeed, Professor Barnes argues that there was a complex tapestry of complicity in UCT’s relationship with apartheid, in which Murray represented one strand.
Through its rendition of Murray’s professional life as an academic and a public intellectual, Apartheid’s Professor will explore the operational micropolitics of mainstream teaching and research in apartheid-era institutions. In showing that apartheid was not simply externally imposed by the state, that it was also systematically reproduced within the liberal ivory tower, Professor Barnes will provide a significant revision of the modern history of South African higher education and its exercise of a deeply problematic set of liberal principles that, arguably, have not yet been fully disavowed.