University of Waikato launches taskforce to address racism

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Academics who made allegations of racism at the University of Waikato are welcoming the outcome of an independent review.

University of Waikato campus

The University of Waikato campus. Photo: Screengrab / University of Waikato

While individual claims have been dismissed as “inaccurate”, “incorrect” and “reflective of differing perspectives”, it’s hoped the findings could lead to nationwide action on racism at tertiary institutions.

Six academics wrote to the Ministry of Education last month, expressing concerns about casual and structural racism at the University of Waikato – prompting the review.

It was led by Harawira Gardiner and Hekia Parata, who held individual and group meetings with 80 people and received 96 submissions, and the findings were released yesterday.

Instead of upholding specific claims, it concluded that New Zealand’s public institutions, including universities, adhere to western university traditions and cultures – so there was a case for structural, systemic, and casual discrimination.

“Today, in 2020, in this post-settlement world, it is not acceptable for places of teaching and learning, of research, scholarship and debate, of nation building, to continue this selectively accommodating patronage, of Māori, tāngata whenua, their mana, tikanga and mātauranga,” it said.

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Professor of Māori Education at Victoria University of Wellington Joanna Kidman – who has publically supported the six academics – says she was delighted with that outcome, and confirmation from the University of Waikato that it would set up a taskforce to “open up the dialogues” and tackle the issues.

“I think this will be a positive step forward… we will look towards the university to lead what could be a model for other universities in times to come,” she said.

However, she said the findings could also be put on a “national footing.”

“We’ve seen recently, a group of Māori professors have put an open letter to education minister Chris Hipkins saying that they would like an independent review of New Zealand universities. I think this is an excellent way forward.”

The report also recommended the university engaged in a future-focused process to determine how to apply the Treaty of Waitangi, and to refresh its relationships with iwi.

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The University of Waikato declined to comment further on the report or speak to RNZ, but Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley posted a video statement saying the university council unanimously accepted the recommendations.

He said the taskforce would create an action plan over the next few months.

“This is an opportunity for the University of Waikato to provide leadership both here, and nationally, for the development of ideas that will address structural and systemic discrimination and racism in the university system,” he said.

“It’s going to be a difficult journey, a challenging journey, but we are committed to making it work.”

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