Friday, June 14, 2024

David Lillis: New Initiatives at Massey University

The Massey University Curriculum Transformation Discussion Paper

Massey University has just circulated a discussion paper for comment - Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa - Massey University Curriculum Transformation Discussion Paper.

There is much to applaud here. It says that to meet the various challenges facing the university, it must focus on the curriculum, what it teaches, how it teaches, how it assesses learning and how the university supports students to be successful. It states that the university must shift from the curriculum as discrete blocks of disciplinary knowledge, to a coherent organising framework for the entire student experience. These initiatives are very positive. However, in this article we focus on current moves to indigenize the university because enforced indigenization must be open for public debate.

The Discussion Paper clarifies that in their use of the word “curriculum”, the university administration refers to more than simply the discipline content or syllabus, but the entire experience of learning pedagogies, assessments, values and ways of knowing. But what exactly are these ways of knowing?

Transforming Massey’s Curriculum

We are told that transformation must encompass all areas of the curriculum, including continued investment into Pūrehuroatanga and into the university’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi aspirations. Apparently, Pūrehuroatanga represents a coordinated and centralised body of work which aims to remove institutional barriers to success as well as providing targeted, proactive and data-driven support for those learners who need it. Again, such an initiative seems very progressive, but what exactly are the university’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi aspirations? We read:

Massey University graduates  . . . are adept at operating in culturally and ethically respectful and sustainable ways. They have a deep understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its relevance in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, and they are skilled at integrating this knowledge into their professional practice. 

What indices and metrics would denote a deep understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its relevance in contemporary New Zealand? Is it the right of any university to declare positions on social or political issues or otherwise engage in political action? How deep can any person’s understanding be of a document of 567 words?  How exactly will Massey’s graduates become skilled at integrating knowledge of the Treaty into their professional practice and how will their level of skill be measured? How will graduates in the following disciplines and degree programmes integrate knowledge of Te Titiri within their academic studies – Aviation, Finance and Banking, Web, Game and Interaction Design, Biological and Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics, Veterinary Science, Computer Science and Information Technology, Animal Science and Emergency Management?

Does their newly-acquired deep understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its relevance in contemporary New Zealand include understandings of the cultures, motivations, challenges, successes and needs of those 25% of New Zealand’s total population who are non-Māori/non-European?

Massey University’s Graduate Profile

The University Graduate Profile, approved by the Academic Board in 2023, requires that curricula should support the development of eight specific attributes. The first of these attributes is a comprehensive understanding of students’ fields of study, including the research and critical information literacy skills necessary to find, interpret, critically evaluate and apply information and generate new knowledge in inter-disciplinary, bi-cultural and global contexts. This attribute is to be supported through curricula and initiatives which:

  1. Are designed, developed and delivered in authentic partnerships with Māori
  2. Uphold provisions of Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  3. Value and incorporate Māori, Pacific and other Indigenous identities and knowledge systems
  4. Challenge scholarship that entrenches Eurocentric approaches.

Why is a bi-cultural context mentioned but not the multi-cultural context that is New Zealand today? Will curricula be designed, developed and delivered in authentic partnership with Asian People, Pacific People or any number of other communities? How will Massey staff and students incorporate Māori, Pacific and other Indigenous identities and knowledge systems and what is meant by incorporation? Do these systems include Asian and Pacific systems or those of Islamic immigrants from North Africa or the Middle East?

What does it mean to challenge scholarship that entrenches Eurocentric approaches and what are the particular Eurocentric approaches that must be challenged? What about global approaches, such as those of all modern science and technology? Are they to be challenged too? Possibly, the allusion to Eurocentric approaches or Eurocentric knowledge derives from the postmodern relativist view that tends to be inherently anti-science, a view whose infusion within academic thinking is proving to be very damaging. However, only Massey University can tell us how and why Eurocentric approaches are to be contested and on what philosophical basis.

The Place of Traditional Knowledge

The fifth attribute is as follows: Respect for the place of Māori knowledge, culture and values in their fields of study and society. This attribute is supported through curricula and initiatives which:

  1. Offer opportunities to engage meaningfully with whānau, hapū, iwi and/or hāpori
  2. Respect the place of Māori knowledge, culture, practices and values
  3. Raise awareness of Māori and Indigenous entrepreneurialism
  4. Support students to identify ways in which norms and biases may affect interactions with Māori.

All of this is laudable, though we do not support indigenization of our universities towards a single ethnic group, particularly at the expense of the quality of our education and research. In any case, what is the place of any form of traditional knowledge, culture and values in students’ fields of study and within society, and where do we read about engaging with other communities or raising awareness of Asian or Islamic entrepreneurialism? Do we not have norms and biases that impact on Asians or Pacific people too? Are people of European ancestry immune to norms and biases?

The sixth attribute is: Proactive engagement with local communities, iwi and hapū to contribute to the development of solutions to local and national challenges using evidence-based approaches and constructive action for the common good. This attribute is supported through curricula and initiatives which:

  1. Provide opportunities for students to participate in their local civic, workplace and community contexts
  2. Uphold approaches based on partnership and coagency
  3. Promote the appropriate use of Te Reo Māori and critical awareness of tikanga Māori in community engagement
  4. Advance positive outcomes for Māori
  5. Support self-knowledge and critical reflection.

When Massey University talks of partnership and coagency, does this mean partnership and coagency with all communities or with a select few? Should not the university attempt to advance positive outcomes for everyone, especially those who suffer the greatest shortfalls in health and wellbeing and socioeconomically – our Pacific community? Should not Massey promote other immigrant languages apart from Te Reo, and promote critical awareness of world views other than those of one community? Does critical reflection encompass diversity of views or is it restricted to accepted views that are consistent with those of the university administration?

On the question of engagement, universities are supposed to be thought leaders rather than institutions that provide support for identity groups. Universities are funded by the public, and so at some level they must be seen to provide services that are useful to society, but does this have to extend to the granularity of local communities? Possibly so, but the point is debatable.

In 2018 we had an estimated 185,955 speakers of Te Reo, 101,937 speakers of Samoan, 95,253 speakers of Northern Chinese, 69,471 speakers of Hindi, 55,116 speakers of French, 52,767 speakers of Yue (Cantonese), and perhaps far more than 360,000 speakers of other langauges (ethniccommunities, 2024). What of them?

The seventh attribute is:  Verbal, written, digital and interpersonal skills to communicate effectively within diverse situations and in both bicultural and globalised contexts. This attribute is supported through curricula and initiatives which support both English and Te Reo Māori. Fair enough, but what about Mandarin and Samoan or Tongan language?

The eighth attribute is:  Application of knowledge and skills to the development of solutions for global challenges to social, cultural, indigenous, economic and environmental sustainability. This attribute is supported through curricula and initiatives which Promote critical awareness of Māori and Indigenous priorities. What are these Indigenous priorities and in which domains do they apply – Health and Wellbeing; Ecology and Agriculture; Environment and Climate; Socioeconomics and Social Justice; Sustainable Energy, Transportation, Construction and Manufacturing; the theory of Atomic and Nuclear Physics, Organic Chemistry, Statistical Modelling or Evolutionary Biology? Are they the priorities of one ethnic and cultural group exclusively or can they be someone else’s?

Indigenization and the University

In a previous article I reported that many serious misconduct cases are in progress against academic staff at our universities but that do not pertain to strictly academic matters. At Massey University several staff are on the receiving end of serious misconduct cases for speaking out against university policies (Lillis, 2024). In addition, some outspoken critics have been forced into early retirement. I am informed that the university puts a confidentiality clause on every case without the permission of the person involved. And so we hear of constant harassment that is played out as part of this managerial power game. If what we hear is true, then such abuse must be exposed and stopped immediately.  

It seems that most or all of our universities are undergoing indigenization. A year or two ago, at another North Island university, a member of staff known to me met with more senior staff to clarify why his or her application for promotion to the status of professor was unsuccessful and how his or her chances could be improved. He or she was told that successful applicants had shaped their applications around the four pillars of the university’s strategic plan, which include elements aligned with indigenization. In other words, to improve chances of promotion, an applicant must demonstrate convincingly that he or she had developed his or her career in accordance with the university’s strategic plan. Does this situation not recall a loyalty oath? If so, this requirement is completely antithetical to academic freedom.  

In my previous article I referred to the Kalven Report – a statement of the roles and responsibilities of the University of Chicago in relation to political and social action, published in 1967. It confirmed the primary roles and responsibilities of the university as teaching and research, but asserted that the university should not promulgate or declare views or perspectives on the social or political activity of the day. This is because dissenting views are marginalized if one perspective only is to be presented as the university’s view.

As I said in the previous article, what the university needs is to embrace diversity of views if it is to flourish. And so, the university becomes the provider and enabler of what Kalven refers to as:

an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry

And, in this extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry, the unit of analysis, the unit of contest and challenge is the individual member of staff and the individual student. My own former professor of theoretical physics puts it this way:

We need to keep in the forefront that universities exist for the advancement of knowledge through teaching and research. By ‘knowledge’ I mean testable (and contestable) knowledge, not myth and dogma.

Assessment at Massey University

We are told that Te Reo Māori versions of all assessments must be provided, noting that this means more than simply translated assessments, possibly requiring the development of different assessment criteria and rubrics. Of course, Massey University must be extremely diligent in ensuring that standards of assessment within given courses and programmes are fully comparable and that neither advantage nor disadvantage accrues to any person who is assessed through alternative methods.

Massey has also suffered from the flow-on effects of going online, including data breaches and examination failures. Students have reported significant problems with the online examination system, forcing cancellation of online supervised examinations. A large number of students were unable to log into the examinations or had been shown other students’ names and student IDs. It is entirely understandable that unforeseen technical problems can arise in online platforms, but we are informed that the Student Association had been calling for changes to online supervised examinations since early last year.

I am informed that Massey’s financial data has been "reworked", and several staff have confided in me their view that we are seeing there most probably the worst management performance in the history of the universities in New Zealand. 

A recent update from the Massey University Council stated the following:

I am delighted to inform you of the establishment of a new taumata or leadership group, Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Tiriti o Waitangi i Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa. This taumata has been established to provide the university with a high level of Te Tiriti expertise and Te Ao Māori leadership for our Te Tiriti o Waitangi kaupapa and mission.

Over the past two years, the university has delivered several important initiatives to strengthen our Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments. These include the Te Tiriti o Waitangi Policy to help guide other university policies, and the launch of Ngā Kaiārahi Tiriti, the ground-breaking staff Te Tiriti development programme that is delivering transformative educational and leadership programmes across all areas of the university. Having Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Tiriti o Waitangi is another progressive step in our ongoing Te Tiriti journey.

Taumata members include representatives endorsed by each of our Mana Whenua iwi, Te Ātiawa, Rangitāne and Ngāti Whātua, as well as a member representing Ngā Iwi nō Ngā Hau e Whā (iwi from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand), and a representative for Māori staff and ākonga.

All of us should wish for equality of opportunity and, where possible and without undue distortion of legal systems or policy processes, positive equality of outcomes. We want the best for all ethnic and cultural communities, but we are experiencing an avalanche of transformations that are highly unbalanced, skewed almost exclusively towards one ethnic group, and in the end will not be positive for education. Why should a Te Tiriti o Waitangi Policy, but not equivalent policies that pertain to other communities, have the status and power to guide other university policies?

Unfortunately, students will stay away from Massey and other New Zealand universities if the current proposals for indigenization get through. If a student wants to study engineering or science, he or she does not choose to be educated in religion or traditional world views. However, today we may be witness to significant indoctrination of our students; something that is pretty much unheard of on the international stage except in totalitarian dictatorships or republics that are dominated by fundamentalism.  

The Public Service Commission gave the Massey University Vice-Chancellor's salary at $586,000 for the 2021/22 year (Ellingham, 2022).  What it is in 2024 I do not know, but most probably it is more than in 2022. Is the current Vice-Chancellor, Jan Thomas, aware of the current serious misconduct cases against certain staff and, if so, what is her level of involvement? For that matter, what is the level of involvement of the other Officers of the University who are empowered to authorise decisions for or on behalf of the university? They are Alistair Davis (Chancellor), Angela Hauk-Willis (Pro Chancellor) and Tere McGonagle-Daly (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Students and Global Engagement).

Closing Remarks

If we are to drive innovation and accelerate the shift towards a knowledge-based, diversified economy, we must fund the best researchers and ensure the best possible performance of our universities. While traditional knowledges will play a part, as will an enhanced commitment on the part of everyone to live simpler lives, progress in addressing the global challenges of malnutrition and food insecurity, pandemics, public health and child mortality, environment and climate will be driven almost exclusively by mainstream science and technology. Our universities are pivotal to achieving a brighter future for everyone and it is crucial that they are managed and led effectively.

We value traditional knowledges and recognize that they retain cultural and historic value today. Traditional knowledge even adds something of value to world science, but in a very limited way. Unfortunately, the discourse on the place of traditional knowledge in education has become very politicized and, in our genuine desire to empower minorities, we show little restraint or common sense. Equally worrying is any move that potentially takes funding from excellent science and gives it away on the basis of ethnicity.

The impression given by the architects of revised university strategic plans and new trajectories is that one ethnic group is somehow separate from the university in a way that other groups are not. What is not so apparent is that these directives are driven by a very small number of people, mainly political activists, who see themselves as cultural commissars and who wish to be accorded status and authority as a result. Potentially, this situation could create a system of apartheid that separates staff and students of one ethnic and cultural group from everyone else.

The term "gender apartheid" is now being used to describe the treatment of women in certain fundamentalist societies and the term “apartheid” may soon apply within our universities here in New Zealand. Within the present discourse, there is genuine idealism but, unfortunately, behind the current ideology there is also a desire to push agendas that are not in the interests of education and to force those agendas through by means of threats to the reputations and careers of those who object.


Ellingham, Jimmy (2022). Massey vice-chancellor's 18% pay jump not a pay increase, Public Services Commission says,earned%20prior%20to%20Covid%2D19.

Ethniccommunities (2024). Top 25 Languages in New Zealand

Lillis, David (2024). New Zealand’s Universities - Bullying and Other Issues

Dr David Lillis trained in physics and mathematics at Victoria University and Curtin University in Perth, working as a teacher, researcher, statistician and lecturer for most of his career. He has published many articles and scientific papers, as well as a book on graphing and statistics. 


Ray S said...

I can see that the future without all this crap will not eventuate by democratic means.

Peter said...

I'm sorry David, you might find "much to applaud", I simply say: "Go woke - Go Broke" and I can't think of a more simplistic, but fundamentally true way of addressing this utter nonsense - be it from the name that's (possibly?) been "gifted" to the bs that embraces 'Treaty centricity' as some kind of new-age answer.

Massey have been supping on the same Kool Aid as our other Uni's, as well as both the current and two recent past Prime Ministers. They may think they are all too clever and are in tune with the public, but they are most certainly a country mile away from reality.

"They" have been permitting the indoctrination of our young, but the buck stops with the more mature, intelligent, and work-savvy sector of the population. "They" can attempt to "spin" this crap as much as they like, but we will not be fooled and we will walk away with our wallets - as too will those seeking a real means to a future.

Just like what is happening in our legal education system over tikanga, in attempting to bring in stone-age practices and belief systems as the way forward - what an absolute joke and travesty to our intelligence. And these clowns believe they are thinkers and leaders. Pffft! Let them fund their own futures.

Anonymous said...

All this political indoctrination makes me hesitate to recommend university to anyone, especially those thinking of the humanities. What are they really going to learn??? They will be taught what to think not how to think.

Anonymous said...

The university had produced a fruit salad of ideas. It would have been much better if they had just bought a tin of Watties Fruit Salad and enjoyed it for lunch rather than inflected this nonsense on their students and general public.

Reggie said...

Massey’s gone mad! First it was Otago, then Victoria and now Massey. It can’t be the water so where’s it coming from? It’s like some creeping cult movement slowly taking over the brains of those running the universities. Time to hand my degree back. I’m embarrassed!

Anonymous said...

Of course, a referendum is now super-urgent - to draw a line in the sand.

However, the question should be very clear:

Do you want NZ to be :
a democracy (equality for all citizens)
an ethnocracy? (power and privilege for a specific minority)

Luxon, Stanford and co will never challenge Massey university - or others.

Anonymous said...

What a lot of poppycock.

People with a deep understanding of ToW include contributors to this blog such as Mike Butler, Bruce Moon, John Robinson...

Massey Uni is simply spouting more of the propaganda that is filling up NZ which in turn is rotting from the inside out.

Part of this pretence that just like a shiny pear, NZ is healthy and in good shape. But scratch the surface and there is the rot. Inedible.

MPHW said...

Great paper David.

Anonymous said...

Kiwis are considered domestic students in OZ and that's where they will go. Never to return. Have you considered involving the Free Speech union on the following issue? I would donate to that case.
"At Massey University several staff are on the receiving end of serious misconduct cases for speaking out against university policies (Lillis, 2024). In addition, some outspoken critics have been forced into early retirement. I am informed that the university puts a confidentiality clause on every case without the permission of the person involved."

Erica said...

Spend time with ordinary folk which is fortunately what most of NZ is composed of.
They have wisely always had a suspicion that much of academia is pie in the sky destructive stupidity.

Shouldn't we always have known elevated cleverness is not the same as wisdom and goodness.

Anonymous said...

An explosion of knowledge and methods of reliably expanding that knowledge took off in Europe in the seventeenth century and has since become universal because of its success. None of this knowledge required adherence to the ToW, the Maori world view or partnerships with iwi. Ernest Rutherford won his Nobel prize working overseas in international science.

What an extraordinarily perverse and destructive approach to the generation and transmission of knowledge by Massey Not-a-University!

Anonymous said...

As someone of mixed European-Māori descent, the only identity I have and want—public or private—is ‘New Zealander.’

If anyone can point to a single discovery, innovation, or invention that has come out of Māori culture to the wider benefit of humankind, perhaps I’ll take another look at it.

Meantime, I’ll stick with the vastly richer Western post-enlightenment culture of my white ancestors, thank you very much!

There are many like me.

David Lillis said...

We must remember that those driving the transformations within our universities are few in number. Anyway – for the record, here are selected items of feedback sent to me over the last day (I have edited them a little to avoid revealing their identities):

Item 1
Thank you for taking up this latest problem and publicising it. Our Massey ‘thought leaders’ do not understand the extent to which the students and alumni feel betrayed by what Massey is doing. Instead, the senior leadership appears to be proud of what it is doing. The more the NZ public gets to hear what’s happening at Massey, the better.

I was talking yesterday with a Palmerston North teenager who is now at Massey but who is “actively looking for alternatives to Massey”. Public awareness of the situation at Massey does help to relieve some of the burden of explanation on those students who are fleeing. But the University’s response to lower enrolments will only be more staff cuts — so, echoing others here, fixing the problems is going to take government intervention. And that too makes publicity very valuable.

Item 2
There must be major concern of what is going on at our universities. The changes in the Massey council go clearly towards co-governance. The problem is that our activist academics are full of post-modernistic nonsense and their agenda is clearly to decolonize the university. They see anything “western” as a threat to their own people. Academics remain silent in fear of losing their jobs. Others promote this nonsense to be part of the postmodern club, as it suits them well. What really gets me is that the government is not stopping this, as immense damage to our university system has already been done. And how should a “non-settler decolonized” university look like? They don’t know that they are shuffling their own graves, as students turn massively away from Massey.

Item 3
Decolonisation involves the rejection of Enlightenment values that underpin the truth-seeking function of universities. Universities are western institutions! Wananga have a distinct function to universities, and this needs to be recognised. As you say, the people promoting decolonisation are mainly political activists who are simply pursuing their own agenda. They have little commitment towards the academy, and they are almost uniformly anti-science.

I am very sceptical that any of these issues will be addressed because our leaders will be unwilling to expend any political capital of their own. What may work is the argument that we will destroy our universities if we move away from academic virtues such as academic standards, scholarship, free speech, etc. The reason why things got this bad is because it has been impossible to have a national conversation on these issues. It's not hard to demonstrate that decolonisation, indigenisation, kaupapa Māori etc are political movements. All that's required is to listen to what the proponents of these ideas are saying.

Much work on a free speech policy at our university was ignored in favour of the emotional safetyism and purported cultural values that were reinserted at the last minute by our pro-VCs. Free speech is a problem for them because it means that people understand that they are free to criticise what's going on.

Anonymous said...

Here was I thinking that the PIJF only impacted the media. Little did I appreciate that the same misguided doctrines embraced by that racist funding philsophy also pervades our universities. The bankruptcy (both financial and moral) facing our legacy media will soon be replicated by our universities. Who can deny they don't deserve it?

Chris said...

This is well informed and on point commentary

Empathic said...

Totalitarian imposition of ideology, including punishment of those who disagree, will not produce a crucible for ideas to be debated, accepted or discarded on the basis of logic and/or rigorous evidence. Instead, it's a terrible idea comparable to religious groups that previously contributed to knowledge and human achievement but turned fundamentalist thereafter stifling development towards new knowledge and solutions.

Massey's transformative attributes contain mainly woke slogans the meaning and application of which seem both ill-defined and unrealistic. How on earth can Te Tiriti provide any guidance for educating students in modern sciences and knowledge, or indeed on education at all? Read the damn thing! It can't, other than by fanciful invention.

It seems that we now have university administrators who were chosen or encouraged by the Ardern governments to push glorification and fanciful misrepresentation of Te Tiriti. Those administrators devoted themselves to this inane cause and gained approval from higher up their pecking order. Now, having invested their reputations and minds in that mission with religious fervour, they find it difficult to wake up and stop. They need to be stopped.

Incidentally, the term 'indigenization' implies that Maori are indigenous. That's a stretch given that they were immigrants from Pacific islands and their original language and culture were still so recent that Captain Cook's interpreter Tupaia could translate their language and understand their customs even though he had never been to the archipelago that became New Zealand. Maori don't meet established defining criteria for 'indigenous'. If Maori are to be called indigenous, many white New Zealanders whose ancestors arrived a number of generations ago would also be indigenous.