As with American institutions affected by what Politico recently labeled “The Great Renaming of Craze of 2015,” South Africa’s Rhodes University has seen recent protests about the propriety of continuing to honor its namesake:

The momentum to transform Rhodes University is gathering pace and moving with urgency, including its possible renaming, vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela says.

The university’s student representative council (SRC) has led the drive for both institutional transformation and the name change. Students who embarked on protests this year at the Grahamstown-based university called for the name change because Cecil John Rhodes stood for racism, colonialism, pillaging and black people’s oppression.

More so even than the figures at the center of controversy in the United States — historical leaders such as Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Jackson — the question of whether Rhodes’s name is educationally appropriate is an intellectual challenge. Cecil Rhodes is not only the now-reviled architect of South African segregation and a colonialist ideologue, but also the provider of land and funds for the University of Capetown and Rhodes University (and Oriel College at Oxford), as well as the revered enabler of a liberal (even, arguably, progressive) education for individuals from Cory Booker to Bobby Jindal (not to mention Bill Clinton and Bill Bradley).

EphBlog regular Derek Catsam ’93 is not only a renowned historian with an expertise in race, history, politics, and Africa, but a former Rhodes University student. And now, he’s headed back to Grahamstown, where Rhodes is located:

University of Texas of the Permian Basin history professor Derek Catsam will be making what he terms a “grand return” to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, on a Hugh le May Fellowship.

Catsam has made many trips to South Africa over the years and plans to spend from February to about mid-June in the country. The Hugh le May Fellowship is available in alternate years to senior scholars who wish to devote themselves to advanced work in one of the following subjects: Philosophy, classics and a variety of history and languages.

“It’ll really be a great experience,” Catsam said.

He added that he’s currently juggling two book projects, both of which are relevant to South Africa and the United States, but he’s going to focus on the 1981 visit to America by the national South African rugby team nicknamed the Springboks. The team came to this country to share their greatness and help improve American rugby, Catsam said.

Catsam is no fan of Rhodes or colonialism (and has offered useful, critical commentary on Rhodes Scholars at EphBlog in the past), but I don’t recall him expressing any views on the #RhodesMustFall campaign last year during his visit to Capetown. It will be interesting to see if he becomes involved in the renaming question during his fellowship. And even more interesting to see what he writes about rugby. You can follow him on Twitter @dcatafrica. Congrats on the fellowship!

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