Wednesday, June 19, 2024

John Raine: Cultural High Noon in our Universities

Politicisation of our Universities

About a year ago, I first wrote with co-authors on this platform about the cultural shift and de facto politicisation of our universities [1]. By now I thought we might have seen a steadying of the ship and a true course set once again. The current reality is very worrying.

Throughout the Western world the infusion into universities of critical social justice (CSJ) theory and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) politics - now, ironically, exclusionary, racist and intolerant - is producing a generation of graduates steeped in postmodern relativist (frequently anti-science) thinking, embracing identity politics and the victim-oppressor mindset. It has caused division in our country rather than encouraging much-needed unity.

Our tertiary institutions and public research funding system have also been placing equity ahead of merit and drifting towards mediocrity. Do we want this sort of thinking in the next generation of public service or business employees, or indeed in our politicians?

For those wanting to wade more deeply into this ideological morass, Helen Pluckrose has given a comprehensive but accessible description of postmodernism and its damaging consequences [2]. Some recent examples:

  • DEI politics have recently been most visible overseas in student pro-Palestine demonstrations on campuses, particularly in the USA, but more widely on gender and racial identity issues. In the UK, universities have been expressing guilt over British colonial activity of the 19th century and earlier [3]

  • Staff at the University of Exeter, U.K., have recently been pressured to sign up to a Stonewall anti-transphobia pledge to demonstrate allyship with transgender students [4]. Staff who do not want to commit to this have been vulnerable to being harassed and marginalised.

  • In the 10th June 2024 Free Kiwis Podcast [5], James Kierstead and Michael Johnston interviewed Dr Peter Ridd, who was dismissed from James Cook University in Australia for breaching a confidentiality requirement imposed by the University in relation to talking publicly about his research results on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. His research disagrees with the orthodox views from heavily-funded research in the University attributing damage to the Reef to climate change. In this case, there was effectively a major suppression of academic freedom of speech.

  • At the recent Victoria University of Wellington free speech event [6], the large majority of speakers advocated for particular identity groups, and in some cases for limitations on free speech, rather than constructively discussing how to preserve freedom of speech in our universities. Notable exceptions were Jonathan Ayling (Free Speech Union), and the New Zealand Initiative’s Michael Johnston who, in the final discussion, spoke much sense on protecting freedom of speech. How can a university foster open debate on all subjects if a particular interest group is able to influence the Vice Chancellor to impose strictures on discussion of ideas and political positions (not hate speech, I emphasise) because one identity group may feel unsafe, whether it concern race, gender identity or some other issue?

In this country, Treaty politics, destructively escalated by Te Pati Māori since the October 2023 election, have perhaps diverted attention from the continuing quiet revolution that has gone on in the education system, and in the introduction of tikanga into the law [7].  While we can hope that Erica Stanford’s curriculum working group will put a stop to the cultural re-engineering in the draft schools’ curriculum of the last government, the university sector operates with greater independence.

Treaty Politics

Under the Education and Training Act 2020 281(1)(b) [8], university Councils are required to acknowledge the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but also to preserve academic freedom. This has led to a conflicted situation in which giving of expression to Treaty principles has begun to trump academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The Victoria University of Wellington Treaty Principles Statute of February 2019 and the later Treaty Guide [9,10] contain eight principles. A detailed reading shows in particular that rangatiratanga, (autonomy and self-determination), whai wāhi (participation) are potentially intrusive on academic freedom. David Lillis [11] has drawn attention to these two principles.  In addition, the principle of kawanatanga (governance) ensures that the University Council has Māori representation, and discharges appropriately its obligations to Māori. However, no such measures are in place to ensure representation of other groups.

David Lillis [12] has also recently produced a critique of Massey University’s Curriculum Transformation Discussion Paper. Lillis highlights the potentially unbalanced nature of the Massey curriculum transformation, where a very Treaty-centric approach may politicise the curriculum and weaken it for students in the sciences.

Such university Treaty principles statements were perhaps intended to make universities more culturally comfortable and supportive to Māori, but rather than meeting particular obligations to one group, Te Ao Māori appears to be becoming the dominant and required university culture. There is clearly an imperative on universities to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for Māori, but that should not mean a major cultural transformation of the institution. Apart from not recognising that our universities have students from over 100 ethnic/cultural backgrounds, this development runs counter to the idea of the university as a secular, apolitical body. Asian students, for example, comprise nearly half the student population at the University of Auckland in 2024, but have little or no voice in the running of the institution. 

In academic programmes, we are seeing the introduction of mandatory matauranga Māori courses and/or course content, notably in the sciences, where matauranga Māori cannot be equated with modern science.  However, such course content cannot be questioned by non-Maori and therefore becomes indoctrination. This situation recalls earlier days of the Catholic Church where to question dogma was heresy.

The move to give greater recognition to Te Ao and matauranga Māori has also unduly influenced our national research funding system. In contestable research funding, applicants to the MBIE Endeavour Fund have been advised that they should not apply if their project does not engage with Māori communities, or does not include Māori academics, with a Māori mentor to support Māori researchers. This is an oppressive and unreasonable imposition for researchers, for example in the fundamental sciences such as nuclear physics or biochemistry, or in engineering and technology areas such as micro-electronics, software and AI.  Because of this, many top researchers are now cut out of the funding system.

In acknowledging Treaty principles, University Councils must operate with a light touch so that we do not see cultural transformation of our universities into ethno-institutions that will be given little credence internationally among the group of respected universities that have managed to overcome, or at least sensibly moderate, the CSJ/DEI movement. If aspects of rangatiratanga, whai wāhi, tikanga and kawa are imposed rather than optional, this leads to politicisation of the university environment and militates against political neutrality, academic freedom, freedom of speech and the very essence of what the university should be, as described in the Kalven report [13].

The University Advisory Group

Will the University Advisory Group, currently deliberating under Sir Peter Gluckman, be able to resist pressure to include in their report to Government general statements around the Treaty, equity and diversity that are open to interpretation that would allow the present decolonisation agenda in education to continue? Do we want New Zealand universities to be progressively more inward-looking and saddled with different rights and standards for one or more groups? Wananga are openly defined by Te Ao Māori, which is as it should be. It is in my view wrong that the country should see its universities pressured into an ethnically defined culture when they should be politically and culturally neutral.

Resistance to oppressive DEI politics in the university has appeared in a few US universities [14] but this worldwide situation could get worse before it gets better. Calls for moderation need to be joined up internationally as a collective voice for preservation of the essential character of the university, a recovery of the values of the liberal enlightenment, merit as the key criterion for assessing student admissions and performance, and in measuring staff teaching and research,

In this regard, the University Advisory Group has a responsibility to recommend as a priority the preservation of institutional neutrality and the restoration of meritocracy in the university and research systems.

John Raine is an Emeritus Professor of Engineering and held Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellor roles in three New Zealand Universities.


  1. John Raine, David Lillis, Peter Schwerdtfeger, “Where are our Universities Heading,” Breaking Views NZ, 28th June 2023.

  2. Helen Pluckrose, “Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained.” Quillette, 26th May 2024

  3. Philip Ball, “Imperialism’s long shadow: the UK universities grappling with a colonial past”, Nature, Career Feature,19 October 2022

  4. Sanchez Manning, “Exeter University Staff Feel Coerced to Sign Stonewall Anti-Transphobia Pledge”, The Telegraph, June 8th, 2024.

  5. James Kierstead and Michael Johnston Free Kiwis Podcast, “Academic Freedom, Climate Change, The Great Barrier Reef” Interview with Peter Ridd

  6. Recording of Victoria University of Wellington Free Speech event 28th May 2024 (published 6th June 2024)
    Watch: The role of Universities in supporting freedom of speech | News | Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington (

  7. Gary Judd KC, “Tikanga Regulations Advance a Political Agenda”, Bassett Brash and Hide 16th June 2024

  8. New Zealand Education and Training Act 2020. (As of 22 February 2024)

  9. Victoria University of Wellington “Treaty of Waitangi Statute”, 11th February 2019.

  10. Victoria University of Wellington Māori Hub, “Te Tiriti o Waitangi Guide”

  11. David Lillis, “New Zealand’s Universities - Bullying and other Issues,” Breaking Views NZ, 1st June 2024

  12. David Lillis, “New Initiatives at Massey University”, Breaking Views NZ, June 14th 2024

  13. Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action, University of Chicago, 11th November 1967. Report on the University's Role in Political and Social Action (Kalven) (

  14. “DEI: The Great Misunderstanding - On the Collectivist Nature of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Ideology, Social Impurity”, May 11th 2024


Anonymous said...

All eyes will be on the Gluckman report (s) for the credibility of NZ unis. and the STI sector of the academy.

Anonymous said...

Do we want New Zealand universities to be progressively more inward looking etc? Definitely not, but who has the courage to resist the Māori push? Not Christopher Luxon obviously.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

At US universities, the Title IX office can destroy a career with little more than a snap of the fingers. In-camera 'trials' in which the accused is not represented and has no right to cross-examine are the order of the day, although the accused is offered a way to avoid this farce - the even greater farce of a 'confession' followed by immediate dismissal. And all you have to do to undergo this successor to the mediaeval witch trials is express a non-approved opinion about an issue such as transgenderism or same-sex marriage and get dobbed in by an informer.

Anonymous said...

The science thing is so sad. Science is science. It doesnt have a culture, a race or a nationality. Chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy and so on. None of the facts of these sciences change when the scientist or researcher is Maori, Pakeha, Chinese or Arabic. I cannot comprehend how the world of science has been taken over by completely unscientific concepts such as it has. The flow on effects will only be negative.

Peter said...

What a very sad indictment of what our universities have become. Here, an extremely capable former professor of engineering, patently so perturbed by the decline into wayward cultural ideologies that he has to spend his retirement trying to restore some common sense. It’s more than disheartening - it’s unbelievable how stupid the current Treaty and DEI centric mindset could have progressed this far. Sir Peter Gluckman (and his 'Group') had better call it for what it is, or else it won’t only be our universities that are doomed.

Anonymous said...

It's so sad that Ardern and Hipkins managed to destroy one of the best little countries in such a short time.

How do we get out of this mess without resorting to violence ?

I keep sensing an undercurrent movement that is where NZ is heading.

And yet Luxon is concerned only with fixing our economic woes.

Gaynor said...

Science is nothing if it isn't about truth. Our thinking in the West has degenerated into post truth. Ideology now dominates over truth.

Primary education in NZ has been gradually destroyed by the unscientific ideologies introduced in Progressive education in about the 1950s. Progressivism has no concern at all for the actual academic and intellectual development of the student but rather using education as a vehicle for promoting socialism and its utopia. We should have been more aware of this creeping invasion into our educational institutions many decades ago.The signs were always there.

Look no further than progressive Paulo Freire and his 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' 1970, revised 2000, which is the third most common text in the social sciences of the West, to find the source of much of this more recent and progressive woke content in our educational institutions. It is pure Marxism. The aim, of course,is to produce social and political activists who overthrow our present society.

The poor and downtrodden are not to be elevated and given dignity by being well educated in the basics of the 3 Rs, but instead turned into activists and made to think of victim hood. Hopefully you can see Progressivism caused the large tail of underachievement we now have and are forcing their sinister solution of activism.

Wise NZ educators of the middle 20th century, predicted exactly what we have now.

mudbayripper said...

Please, what more proof is required.
Concentrating on the details of this outrageous assault on truth, logic and true equality is by the day becoming more futile.
Decency and the century's old modernity, is struggling under the constant attack from the postmodern Marxist invasion, world wide.
The long term strategy of these evil actors is finally paying off.
Their work is done.
There are more than enough useful idiot's to get them across the line.
The peasants of the west must prepare to starve to death in the wheat fields.

Clive Thorp said...

I agree with you Peter, it is extraordinary that John Raine has to fight this battle, rather than engage in something nearer to his professional interests, if he chooses to.
Equally, I and about 75,000 others have had to join and fund a Free Speech Union to try to retain free speech principles and freedoms we had all our lives and which underpinned a lot of social and other progress.
Thanks John, for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

The lunacy appears to have gone way too far to be pulled back now. Perhaps the only course is to establish alternative systems (albeit probably very modest structures) and let them overtake the old, mad, dinosaur establishments. There is some hope that the most intelligent youngsters will avoid the ‘woke’ establishments like the plague. Eventually, and perhaps quite quickly, the alternatives will flourish and the dinosaurs will die out. Or should that be DEI out.

Anonymous said...

John, please come back to AUT before the current leaders have the place shut down. They are waging a hidden war on science, publicly tolerating science but privately (through the manipulation of funds and who is (and isn't) getting hired) steering the institution towards "alternative ways of knowing"...

Owen Young said...

When I interviewed for a senior academic post at AUT in 2003, the unanticipated third question threw me: "How will you incorporate the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in your teaching and research?". I got the job nonetheless, but became quietly disturbed about the increasing maorification and related identity politics in university activities that only accelerated from 2017. Fast forward to 2022 when on the cusp of full retirement I publicly opined that hiring on the basis of ethnicity to 'correct' diversity imbalances was wrong in many ways. I was immediately and publicly called a "racist dinosaur" (A dinosaur maybe.) I currently teach a short block course at a polytechnic and can report that identity politics there exceeds that at AUT. Sad.

On a more cheerful and practical note, I now follow a recommendation of one Richard Dawkins: when confronted with a form demanding you tick an ethnicity box, tick 'Other' and enter 'Human'. Works a treat.

Anonymous said...

Controlling the universities is based on the writings of Antonio Gramsci, the theoretician of Italian Communism.

Gramsci had been imprisoned by Mussolini in the 1920s, and used his jail time to ask why violent Communist revolutions hadn't happened in the advanced capitalist nations where Marx had predicted they would first occur.

Gramsci's answer was that the capitalist ruling class controlled the West’s social discourse.

This made it impossible for the "subordinate classes" (workers, women, ethnic minorities, and alternative sexualities) to become aware of their institutionalised oppression at the hands of capitalist society.

Unless this situation somehow changed, these groups would never develop a revolutionary class consciousness.

Revolution must therefore first take place on the level of consciousness.

This would be achieved with the formation of a body of Communist intellectuals who’d colonise the academy to use it as an indoctrination factory.

As their students graduated and moved into opinion-shaping roles, the Communist world view would progressively achieve “Cultural Hegemony,” or control of the West’s social discourse.

Naturally, recruits from the "subordinate classes” were needed as a first order of business.

The wider Communist goal was to capture the largest possible cohort from the "dominant classes" who could be induced by propaganda to switch sides.

This would be achieved by teaching that Capitalist society can be divided into groups that oppress and groups that are oppressed.

Gramsci’s academic adherents helped their students to understand that the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology, were not neutral and impartial, instruments of race, gender and class oppression.

The only moral position for someone born into a Communist-designated oppressor group was that of totally supine and penitent victimiser, desperate to make it up to those whom they’d learned their group had historically victimised.

These views are now considered "mainstream" in the Western academy.

US political columnist Joe Sobran uses the metaphor of a hive of bees, united by a kind of “group mind,” to describe the largely informal body of Leftist Groupthink to which these people belong. There’s no central direction as such, but the bees can sense an enemy, and know when to attack.

Sobran says: “To become a bee in this hive is to surrender, voluntarily and eagerly, your own personality: to submerge the self in a collectivity; to prefer the buzzing cliché of the group to individual thought and expression; to take satisfaction in belonging and conforming to a powerful mass while punishing others for failure to conform ... The similarity to an insect colony - where the individual exists only functionally, being both indistinguishable from and interchangeable with its fellows - is not superficial, it is of the essence. To be an insect is to be relieved of the burden of having a soul of your own.”

A small hard core of Communists derives a sense of superiority from knowing that they are manipulating the situation.

The vast mass of the Hive’s inhabitants consists of the Left-leaning approval seekers whom Lenin once referred to as “useful idiots.”

These people have adopted a value system that originated with Communists after being helped to see this as their badge of membership to “Club Virtue.’

After completing their studies, the Bees sallied forth into the media, education system, trade unions, legal profession, judiciary, central and local government, entertainment industry, churches and other institutions that shape society’s governing ideas.

And over time, the views and values of a free society have been quietly supplanted by the views and values of the Leftist counterculture.

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