Jansen was born on 29 September 1956 in the picturesque town of Montagu in the Western Cape between the Robertson wine district and the semi-desert area of the Little Karoo. He grew up here and in a township in the Cape Flats, and his youthful outlook was shaped by upheavals and the loss of family land and property due to forced removals. Encouragement from Paul Gallant, Jansen’s high school Latin teacher and middle-distance running coach, changed his life. The high expectations Gallant set for his students made the young teenage Jansen believe he could achieve things despite the tough environment of the Cape Flats – and he has risen to great heights as a result.
Jansen graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of the Western Cape, completed his teaching qualifications through UNISA, and went on to obtain his masters from Cornell University in the US and his doctorate from Stanford University and is internationally regarded as one of the top researchers in the field of education. A former biology teacher, Jansen served as Dean of Education at the University of Pretoria from 2001 to 2007, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Stanford in 2007 to 2008. He is an Honorary Professor of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand, and has received an honorary Doctor of Education from the University of Edinburgh and the Cleveland State University. His keen interest in academic education has seen Jansen undertake more than twenty international commissioned research and evaluation projects including curriculum support to the Namibian Government and an assessment of curriculum change in Zimbabwe after independence.
In 2008 Jansen co-authored a book with Saloshna Vandeyar, called Diversity High: Class, Colour, Character and Culture in a South African High School and in 2009 he published Knowledge in the Blood which is a heartfelt and effective approach to achieving understanding and transformation in a divided society, based on Jansen’s experiences at the University of Pretoria. The book considers why young Afrikaners, born at the time of Mandela’s release from prison, hold firm views about a past they never lived, rigid ideas about black people and fatalistic thoughts about the future. Jansen had planned to convey a story of how white students change under the leadership of a diverse group of senior academics, but Knowledge in the Blood ultimately became an unexpected and moving account of how these students in turn helped changed him – and helped him start to overcome his own racial hurt and fears.
On 1 July 2009 Jansen took up his appointment Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State (UOFS) at a time when racial tension was at its highest. The campus had been rocked by the infamous Reitz Four video and the students were polarized into clear racial camps. But in a fairly short space of time this remarkable man, armed with the lessons he’s learnt and the courage of his convictions, has been able to encourage students to meet each other half way – to the point that the UOFS, a former bastion of Afrikaner learning, is fast becoming a living model of genuine integration worth replicating across the country. This gifted orator, facilitator and leader has, through listening and introspection, found the key to real transformation. He’s encouraging his students, and each of us, to step forward and be part of the transformation journey; part of the solution – and he’s leading by example.