16 Sep 2020

Staff member wants apology over medical education pathways cap

5:16 pm on 16 September 2020

An Otago University staff member wants an apology from senior leadership for the way it's dealt with a proposal to impose caps on preferential entry pathways into medical school.

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Zoe Bristowe wants an apology from senior leadership at the University of Otago Medical School. Photo: CC 3.0 BY-SA / Robin Sheat

The university has come under fire for suggesting a limit of 56 Māori students a year through its Māori Entry Pathway, and just 20 for the Pacific and low socio-economic pathways.

In a recent letter to staff and students, it has now admitted the proposal was a response to a legal challenge and it now says it will strenuously defend the pathways in court.

It previously denied a legal challenge had anything to do with the proposal.

Professional Practice Fellow Zoe Bristowe said she was blindsided by the statement, and was extremely hurt about how the university has handled the situation.

"I think the letter addresses some of my concerns but not all of them. It certainly didn't provide any reassurance or acknowledgement of the issues that led to this point," she said.

"There's been no meaningful engagement or acknowledgement of error, or willingness to demonstrate accountability from senior leadership, haven't been approached - myself, the associate dean Māori or Pacific - at all during this entire process."

Bristowe earlier this week told RNZ senior leadership tried to push through changes to the preferential entry pathways during a Medical Admissions Committee meeting.

She said the Medical School dean told the committee it was not the university's job to address 200 years of disadvantage.

The university disagrees with Bristowe's version of events.

"Since I made my statement on Monday this week relating my experiences in the Medical Admissions Committee and following the meeting, inferences about my ability to accurately recall events have been made. There needs to be some acknowledgement and an apology over that.

"Since the meeting, issues raised by myself and others have been ignored, dismissed or, in my own experience, completely negated through institutional gaslighting. I think the situation we are in was entirely avoidable and nothing has been done to address the hurt caused to students, staff and our communities," she said.

"We have made multiple attempts to address all of this behind the scenes. The overarching issue here is not actually about the 'proposed caps'. It is a complete failure to consult meaningfully and lead with integrity and it is harmful."

She said she felt vulnerable for speaking out, but was being well-supported by staff and students.

"There's a lot of hurt right now. I feel extremely vulnerable and insecure," she said.

"It's been a really tough time but I've received so much support, it's been overwhelming, and I'm drawing strength from that."

In a statement, University of Otago Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the division of health sciences Paul Brunton said the university regretted any misunderstandings that may have arisen through the process and the upset this had caused.

"We are fully focused on working with Ms Bristowe and all of our Division of Health Sciences staff to work through any concerns they may have and ensuring they are supported and understand how valued they are."

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