CIDA, the innovative university in central Johannesburg, has parted ways with a major sponsor, audit firm KPMG, after disagreements about the use of Transcendental Meditation (TM)

Financial Mail (South Africa)/August 29, 2003

CIDA, often viewed as a miraculous success story in equipping previously disadvantaged individuals with business degrees, is widely supported in the SA business community. It has more than 1 600 students, all of whom have scholarships from the private sector. Pass rates run at 80% - 90% and hiring firms have nothing but praise for CIDA graduates.

KPMG became concerned about the use of TM after being approached by students who had been expelled from the university because of a refusal to participate in the compulsory morning TM classes, arguing that it violated their right to freedom of religion. Since the dispute with KPMG, CIDA has reluctantly decided to make TM observance entirely voluntary. KPMG however is resolute in its parting of ways.

One excluded student says a group of CIDA students were told not to return at the end of the past academic year because they refused to sign a form agreeing to accept TM teachings. CIDA director Taddy Blecher says 38 students were excluded for not signing the form.

Blecher, who has practised TM himself since his student days, says the technique is "scientifically validated, proven to increase intelligence, memory and creativity."

An excluded student says he became concerned about the use of TM after researching it on the Internet. A group of students protested about the use of TM at the official opening of CIDA in November last year. KPMG became concerned then, says spokesman Carl Ballot.

"Further information came to light in the last few months including the extent to which it was mandated and the extent to which students who were not following TM were prejudiced. Right through both periods we had a consistent plea to make it optional," says Ballot.

Both KPMG and the excluded students say they are fully supportive of what CIDA has achieved. "Everything else about CIDA is phenomenal. We are extremely disappointed because CIDA has captured the imagination of the world", says Ballot.

KPMG will uphold its commitments to CIDA for this year, but will look elsewhere in its effort to promote the development of black accounting professionals. Other major sponsors, including Didata, MTN and Investec, had no concerns about TM, says Blecher. He says TM is now "totally voluntary" and the 38 excluded students can now reapply. There will be no further exclusions on the basis of TM observance.

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