Why Isn't My Professor Māori?

An important issue gaining a great deal of profile and traction online and in the media recently has been the ethnic makeup of professors and academics at New Zealand Universities.

This interest originated out of a study and consequent papers published in the most recent issue of NPM's MAI Journal: A New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship - written by Dr Sereana Naepi and Dr Tara McAllister, along with her co-authors Associate Professor Joanna Kidman and Drs' Reremoana Theodore and Olivia Rowley.

In the papers, Why isn't my professor Māori? and Why isn't my professor Pasifika?, Tara and Sereana respectively reported that in recent years Māori made up only 5% of academics in our Universities, whilst Pasifika representation was as low at 1.7%.

In an interview last week on TVNZ's Breakfast Tara described how in her 8 years at university, from her undergraduate bachelors degree through to the completion of her doctorate, she never experienced a Māori academic in her science papers.

Sereana commented in another interview that, “When you have a different world view, you see the world differently, you ask questions differently, you come up with solutions differently and if New Zealand wants to be a leader in research and in innovation, they really need diverse research teams.

“When we consider our place in the world, we’re Aotearoa, we’re in the middle of the South Pacific, why wouldn’t we hire people who reflect our space in the world?"

The importance of seeing 'yourself' represented in the academic system cannot be understated, and the impact of these MAI Journal papers has been felt widely. NPM was acknowledged by the authors as having made a strong and important contribution to Māori academic scholarship and Indigenous academic success over the past 17 years, but much more effort is required by NZ's institutions to address the imbalance that continues to exist.

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From 2013 to 2015, article co-author NPM Principal Investigator Associate Professor Joanna Kidman (Victoria University of Wellington) and her team conducted a qualitative, ethnographic study on senior Māori and Pacific academics based across a range of disciplines in the sciences, humanities, social sciences and professional and applied disciplines.

The project, Māori Academic Socialisation and the University explored the ways that Māori and Pacific senior scholars became academics; how they shaped their interactions and relationships with their institutions of higher learning; how they engaged with their disciplines; and, how they transformed academic knowledge in ways that support and sustain their cultural and tribal communities as well as contribute to national development. The project also investigated the institutional challenges experienced by Māori and Pacific faculty who work within universities and Wānanga. A final report on this project can be accessed here.