Two Universities, One World

Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Celebrating 30 years of a pioneering partnership

The year was 1986.

In South Africa, one university was the intellectual vanguard of the battle against the brutal, racist apartheid regime then in power: the University of the Western Cape. In the United States, one university stood up and took the first step toward providing support for, and solidarity with, that struggle: the University of Missouri System.

The UM System and the University of the Western Cape created the first-ever academic cooperation agreement between a U.S. university and a non-white South African university in 1986. On Sept. 29, a delegation from Western Cape visited the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a twofold mission: to celebrate 30 years of mutual growth and progress; and to chart a course for deeper and broader collaboration in the decades to come.

The delegation toured both Kansas City and UMKC’s two campuses as part of their visit. During a working lunch at the UMKC Student Union, academic leaders and administrators from both universities conferred to identify the best opportunities for research, teaching and service collaborations.

“The real excitement today is not about looking back, but looking ahead. The potential is there for us to do so much more,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton.

For the past 30 years, most of the research collaborations between the two universities have been conceived and driven by individual faculty members. Dr. Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, UMKC’s Provost, said one of her goals going forward is to create more institutionally driven collaborations based on common strengths and areas of interest between the two. Prime opportunities include entrepreneurship, performing arts, bioinformatics, dentistry, HIV prevention and care, and astronomy.

While Bichelmeyer shared information about the background, history and current status of UMKC with the visitors, a similar picture of Western Cape was painted by Registrar Nita Lawton-Misra.

Her university is much younger than UMKC, Lawton-Misra said, founded in 1959, 26 years after UMKC. In the 1970s, the nation’s nascent Black Consciousness movement had found a home there. By the 1980s, Western Cape was recognized as “the intellectual home of the left” in South Africa, and took bold moves such as opening its doors to all of South Africa’s four main racial groups: Africans, Whites, Indians and mixed-race individuals known as “Coloured.”

In the 1990s, she said, the arrival of a majority-rule democracy in South Africa caused the new multi-racial government of President Nelson Mandela to draw deeply from the ranks of Western Cape’s faculty and administration to fill key posts – to such a great degree that the university’s academics, reputation and finances suffered for a time.

Today’s University of the Western Cape is one of Africa’s top research institutions, ranked among the top ten on the continent. The enrollment of 21,500 students is 43 percent black, 47 percent coloured, and 61 percent female.

“We never forget where we came from, no matter where we are going,” Lawton-Misra said. “Our mission is to uplift our community.”

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