The costs of identity politics at St Stithians

Martin Humphries | Nov 02, 2022
Martin Humphries, who had to defend his daughter over accusations of racism which weren't proven, estimates the considerable costs that parents of St Stithians have to pay for the school to indulge in the processes of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that produce none of those high ideals. This article originally appeared in the Daily Friend.

In an article ‘Why I am suing St Stithians over false allegations of racism’, I provided an overview of the legal action that I have instituted against St. Stithians College and three of its officials.

I explained that I am suing for the costs of defending my daughter against false, unfounded, and defamatory allegations of racism when, after a protracted four-phase battle during 2020, the independent chair of the appeal ruled in her favour and dismissed the findings of guilt and sanctions imposed.

This begs the question that if I win, who will pay me? My claim is against St. Stithians and the officials in their personal capacities. All four parties acted with intent and negligence, in my opinion.

In the unlikely event that I lose, St. Stithians’ costs will consist of mostly legal fees and management time. But if I win, it will likely cost St. Stithians over R500 000 with the caveat that if the Court rules against the officials, then they will have to pay personally.

You may ask if R500 000 would be the total cost to St. Stithians, or should I say, the fee-paying parents, of the identity politics at St. Stithians? Well, no, so let me do a small case study.

Costs to St Stithians 2020

In the period 31 May 2020 to mid-July 2020, St. Stithians must have spent a small fortune directly on legal fees and indirectly on management time and costs.

Stakeholders in the greater school community will remember the many announcements between 31 May 2020 on Twitter (@ststithians) and 18 July 2020 in an open letter from the Rector, Mrs Celeste Gilardi, who wrote as follows:

“Student Disciplinaries.On the 31st of May, the school was made aware of disturbing video footage being widely shared on a number of social media platforms. The videos featured College students whose behaviour brought the name of the school into disrepute. Our immediate response, on the 1st of June, was to send a letter to our community and then to initiate a formal investigation based on our Code of Conduct. The investigations indicated that a disciplinary process was warranted and charges were drawn up. Disciplinary hearings have been held and sanctions have been issued. We must bear in mind, that as these proceedings involve minors, we are legally obliged to maintain the confidentiality of the students involved. The sanctions have been accepted by the students, although one student has asked for leave to appeal.” [my bold emphasis]

That one student was my daughter.

Mrs Gilardi’s letter went on to state:  

“Throughout this process we have relied upon the expert assistance of well-respected lawyer Mrs Shamima Gabie (sic) from Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Inc, and Adv Hamilton Maenetje SC, who also drew up the terms of reference for the disciplinary process.”

Mrs Gilardi also took the opportunity to talk about changes to St. Stithians’ established governance standards:

“As per our Governance requirements we will be reviewing a number of College policies including the codes of conduct for staff, parents and students. The review of our code of conduct for students in actual fact began last year and a second draft will be ready to be shared with all our stakeholders within the next two weeks.”

In the period of my daughter’s Appeal between 23 June (outcome of the disciplinary hearing) and 5 October (outcome of the Appeal), another small fortune must have been spent on legal fees and management time.

But whatever the Appeal would have cost if the process were simply allowed to continue in the normal manner, can easily be quadrupled given the fact that St. Stithians and its officials maliciously launched a second wave of attacks on my daughter. That Appeal must have cost St. Stithians’ parents at least a few hundred thousand Rand in direct and indirect costs.

Allegations against staff

In the same open letter of 18 July 2020, Mrs Gilardi wrote:

“On 18th June, the Girls’ College instructed attorneys Cheadle Thomson & Haysom Inc. to assist with an investigation into various allegations made against staff as shared by the group of alumni in their memorandum to the College. The attorneys determined that only allegations that were contained in the official memorandum provided to the College ought to be investigated. Further to that, the anonymous submissions would not be considered as staff members could not be expected to be confronted with accusations devoid of all the details that they would need in order to defend themselves. Those who made anonymous submissions were invited to share their evidence with the attorneys in a confidential manner, but this opportunity was not taken up by any of the alumni.

In respect of these allegations where the student appended her name, the attorneys have been able to reach out to the alumni and are engaging with them. The attorneys are in the process of determining the next steps, once they have considered all the evidence.”

The outcome of those investigations, with no teachers being found guilty, was announced in an open letter dated 15 October 2020 signed by Mrs Gilardi and others:

“Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Inc Attorneys findings were that further investigations of these matters were unnecessary in light of the assessment of each complaint. They did however recommend appropriate training for all staff to assist them to understand the nuances and the need for racial sensitivity and the complexity that diversity brings to the classroom and to the College. In the absence of such training, staff will continue to demonstrate unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes and behaviour that is devoid of any understanding of racial experiences and the profound effect that this brings to an educational experience. Training by a specialist in this fieldwill assist staff to….” [my bold emphasis]

So in effect, none of the accused teachers were guilty of racism, but all teachers and staff were deemed to be practising racists.

Never let a good opportunity go to waste

The legal investigation and report (which parents paid for but were not allowed to see) seem to have been great feedstock for the rest of the identity politicians to jump on the bandwagon and take a large slice of the tuition fees being paid in good faith by parents.

In reading Mrs Gilardi’s letter of 15 October a bit further:

“We initiated discussions about race and racism, with a focus on racial and diversity literacy for all our staff members across the different levels of our schooling. Our current students have also had the opportunity to engage and share their lived experiences, with an intent to develop a programme that will support and give room for all voices to be heard at all times in safe spaces.”

“As a College we are aware that the workshops and conversations held once off will not make a difference, and have therefore structured an Action Plan for 2021 that will continue to support the work of social change in every school…”

“Futhermore (sic), we have formulated Transformation Task Force Groups that have all stakeholders represented for the advancement of organizational (sic) change at all levels. These are: 1. Curriculum Transformation 2. Staff Transformation 3. Discipline and Mediation 4. Student Care 5. Accountability and Transparency”

“The Transformation Office, which is located in the Girls’ School Admin Building has an open-door policy…”

“Attached is a full report on all the work that has been done to date in all our schools and Campus departments.”

The ‘full report’ attached to Mrs Gilardi’s letter is an 11-page ‘Transformation Report 2020’. It is available on the college website (here). In my opinion, this report:

• Supports several new or amended roles for directors, chairs, consultants, and lawyers;

• Enforces new, foreign ideologies about race, gender, and sex, complete with new roles, consultants, unknown risks and costs;

• Translates into 1000’s of hours per annum of people’s time including leadership, teachers, lawyers, and consultants;

• Translates into a significant proportion of students’ time being spent on identity politics, from pre-prep to grade 12;

• Makes no mention of any cost-benefit analysis, SWOT analysis, a review of risks and rewards, an impact assessment or any other leadership and governance mechanism to properly consider the needs, interests, concerns, and expectations of “one and all” (the St. Stithians motto);

• Contains no selection criteria or vetting standards, including background checks, for the people appointed to deal with such delicate and often intimate matters;

• Ignores scrutiny of appointed companies and institutional partners, whose staff should come under additional direct scrutiny, with comprehensive guarantees;

• Assumes no vested interests or conflicts of interest;

• Contains no unique or clear performance metrics;

• Ignores dispute resolution processes for any unexpected challenges or outcomes;

• Ignores the possibility of creating or driving division in the community;

• Ignores the identification and quantification of any direct, indirect, tangible, or intangible costs;

• Promotes redesigning internationally accepted curricula and standards towards unknown outcomes; and

• Supports labelling and segregating teachers and students and transforming the campus into a re-education camp.

Some questions about 2020

Why did the college leadership capitulate so easily to mostly unfounded claims about racism from mostly unidentified alumni? Why, in the few cases where an accuser was identified, did their accusations come to naught (per the secret legal report)? Why were only students found guilty (by management) and when challenged, were St. Stithians’ findings overturned upon independent review?

Simultaneously, new and unknown ideologies about race, gender, and sex, were forced upon teachers and students? Why?

These actions shamefully suggest that St. Stithians management are free from scrutiny and are allowed to violate the rights of students and parents with impunity. And at great cost. And what about the teachers – were they all in support of these identity politics, or did they simply lay low out of fear for their jobs? And where were the governance officials?

Summary of tangible costs

Let me try to estimate some of the costs for 2020, already incurred and presumably paid:

• Managements and teachers’ time – direct and indirect costs, very likely thousands of hours including senior members of staff duly spent on non-teaching time;

• Legal fees – direct costs, much higher than in prior years;

• Consultants’ fees – direct costs, most likely zero in prior years;

• I estimate R24 000 000 – R36 000 000 via an easy method of applying a small percentage of staff’s time against the estimated salary bill (which will be the largest cost item against estimated revenue). Add a few million for the increased legal and consulting costs, plus other small but directly related costs. Hopefully it’s not higher than this, but I will be surprised if it’s much lower.

So, let’s estimate that R30 000 000 was spent in 2020 on direct and indirect costs, and probably every year since. Plus, let’s budget R500 000 for the direct costs of the current matter between me and St. Stithians.

This excludes items such as:

• Loss of revenue: some students left the school after 2020 due to the identity politics of that year. I know of at least one, but let’s not ascribe a monetary value to this by assuming that a replacement student was immediately onboarded with the same fee structure;

• Loss of staff: some excellent staff left the school due to the same identity politics (I know of at least one) but how do we put a value to this destruction? I won’t try to ascribe a monetary value although I believe it’s significant.

Are St. Stithians parents – past, present, and future – happy with the possibility of your college forking out over R30 000 000 for identity politics in 2020 alone, some of which may still have to be paid? With at least a similar amount as recurring expenditure.

The bad news for the school, however, is that there may be more costs coming. I know someone who is taking legal advice on claims including criminal charges against St. Stithians and some of its officials.

Even further bad news is that it’s possible that other parents, students, and even teachers may bring claims against St. Stithians and its officials.

I hear anecdotally, from several sources, that the ongoing identity politics interventions are not being well received by many teachers, students, and parents. Most are just too scared to say anything at this time for fear of retaliation. It is possible that not everything I’m hearing is correct, but if the anecdotes prove to be true, then the cost estimates in this case study are rather low.

Identity Politics Litigation Fund

Consequently, it may be a good idea for the college to proactively build a contingency fund for legal action pertaining to poor or unintended outcomes of their untested and possibly malevolent ideologies.

Perhaps an initial R5 000 000 plus say R5 000 000 per annum for so long as the institution continues to indulge in identity politics. This amount excludes the perhaps more significant risks associated with St Stithians’ new focus on gender and sex ideologies.

And hey, if I’m mostly wrong, then the money in this proposed fund could perhaps be used to pay towards the sustenance and educational costs of several hundred children living in far less privileged environments.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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