29 Aug 2019

Why isn't my professor Pasifika or Māori?

From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am on 29 August 2019

The numbers of Māori and Pasifika working at New Zealand universities remains stubbornly low, despite attempts by the eight institutions to increase diversity.

According to new research Māori academics make up roughly 5 percent of the workforce, while Pasifika academics make up 1.7 percent.

Waikato University employed the most Māori​ staff between nine and 10 percent, it was found - over the six-year period for which data was available. While Lincoln and Canterbury universities had some years where they employed no Pacific Island academics. Auckland University and AUT had the highest number of Pasifika employees.

The research papers ‘Why isn't my professor Māori​?’ and ‘Why isn't my professor Pasifika?’ conclude universities need to be held to account for their lack of diversity and need to make dramatic structural changes if they're to meet their own and national commitments to Māori and Pasifika communities.

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Researcher Dr Tara McAllister says data collection was an issue because of the lack of open and comparable reporting by universities about the ethnicity of who they employ.

“In my personal experience of being eight years in university with no Māori and Pasifika lecturers in any of my sciences papers, I wanted to know is this a widespread issue for our Māori or Pasifika students?”

Dr McAllister says that universities do have diversity and equity programmes in place, but they aren’t having much affect.

“Most of these universities have these broad statements of valuing equity and wanting diversity and also thrown in there is the idea that universities want to honour the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Despite all those policies, this isn’t really resulting in any increases over the period we’ve got data, over six years, these policies haven’t resulted in any real increases in the total percentage of Māori and Pasifika academics.”

Fellow researcher Dr Sereana Naepi says that while universities may not be intentionally excluding Māori and Pasifika, the institutional habits and structures are set up as such that it may discourage or exclude them.

“It’s just that we built our universities based on a really specific world view and as we’ve diversified … we haven’t caught up with how we understand knowledge and how we understand how research is done, instead we’re just operating from that initial assumption,” she says.

“We need really intentional programming for this, it’s not enough anymore to put at the bottom of a call for candidates that your knowledge of Te Tiriti is appreciated, or your knowledge of the pacific communities is appreciated, what we really need to do is actually say we want a Māori and Pasifika scientist, and this is what we’re hiring for.”

There’s also research that shows diverse teams lead better outcomes, Dr Naepi says.

“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?

“Anyone can get an American who meets what we’re looking for but it’s difficult for us to get a Māori and Pasifika person who meets the same requirements but is homegrown, knows the community, engages the community and is really aware of what research is needed for us to as a country to move forward.”

Dr McAllister agrees, saying that hiring more Māori and Pasifika will be beneficial for all students.

“I think it’s really important as you go through your degree … to see yourself represented in the people who are teaching you and this is not only important for the increase in numbers of Maori and Pasifika students, it’s important for all students.

“Because we really want to shape the next generation of doctors, scientists, and teachers and expose them to really wide range of world views rather than a narrow one.”

And through hiring Māori and Pasifika, Dr Naepi says universities should also be mentoring them to step up to senior leadership positions – where there’s also a lack of Māori and Pasifika as the ranks rise.

Dr McAllister says in 2017 there were 1045 professors and deans employed by universities in their research, and of these 35 were Māori and five were Pasifika.

While some may have opted to move out of the academic space following their PhDs, Dr McAllister says there’s a large majority of Māori and Pasifika academics who want to work in academia, but the opportunities aren’t there for them and the “institutional structures” make it an unsafe environment.

“[Unsafe] in terms of the everyday racism that Māori and Pasifika experience, and these experiences have been written about in-depth by one of our co-authors, associate professor Joanna Kidman.”

Some universities have been making moves to combat exclusion and encourage growth. Dr McAllister uses the example of AUT running a Māori and Pasifika early career academic programme that’s hired 20 new permenant Māori and Pasifika researchers.

“We’d really love to see programmes like this more widespread at all universities, and this could begin to start to address the problem that we have,” she says.

Dr Naepi says it’s not just more opportunities being needed but also more support from government and universities.

“We’d like universities just to pause for a moment and to look about their numbers and really think about what it is about their institutional habits and structures that are either excluding Māori and Pasifika or making Māori and Pasifika say the university is not the place for me.”