23 Feb 2021

Te Tira Kāpuia back calls for resignation of Unitec board

12:31 pm on 23 February 2021

A group of kaumātua are backing calls made by Māori for the resignation of the board chair of Unitec.

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Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Te Tira Kāpuia, a group of academics and professionals within education, has supported calls for the board to resign which came after Māori staff and students cited institutional racism and neglect at the institution.

Rangi McLean, Awa Hudson, Mere Tunks, Dr Haare Williams and Awi Riddell make up Te Tira Kāpuia, which aims to advocate for the issues raised by the Māori community at Unitec.

Unitec's senior leadership has received criticism over the past few months for not fulfilling obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and failing to consult with the Unitec rūnanga and Māori communities during an industry-wide restructure, which in turn impacted trust with Māori staff and students.

Te Tira Kāpuia chair Rangi McLean said Māori voices had been stifled and disrespected.

"This is a major issue for Māori in tertiary education. The voices and concerns of Māori have been stifled at governance and management levels. Now, five of the six of Rūnanga representatives have resigned as a result of the disrespect shown towards mana Māori," McLean said.

Māori staff from the institution stated they wanted the polytechnic to commit to combating institutional racism.

Earlier in the year the resignation of a number of staff members, including the chair of the Te Rūnanga o Te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka, Unitec's non-executive advisory group, Tui Ah Loo, highlighted the issues within the polytechnic.

Tui Ah Loo

Tui Ah Loo. Photo: Supplied

Loo removed a photo of her late father Sir John Turei from the campus in protest against the mistreatment of Māori staff and students.

The Māori staff collective at Unitec, Te Rōpū Mataara, have said there was an absence of support at the institute and they felt culturally unsafe.

Te Rōpū Mataara spokesperson, Rihi Te Nana, said the Māori community had lost trust in senior leadership.

"The situation at Unitec has been exacerbated by the fact that Māori staff have clearly stated that they have no confidence in the Unitec/MIT Board," Te Nana said.

She said Te Rōpū Mataara wants the institution to act honourably and demonstrate their role as a Treaty partner.

Tui Ah Loo sent Education Minister Chris Hipkins a formal letter during her resignation addressing issues relating to the restructure process.

Hipkins responded by acknowledging that Unitec had not delivered on their obligations.

McLean said following the letter to Hipkins there was yet to be further progress on the issues.

"Despite the Minister of Education being notified last month of the grave concerns for the wellbeing of Māori at Unitec, no sufficient action has been taken to keep staff safe."

Unitec responds - promises it is committed to Treaty obligations

In a statement, Unitec said it had underestimated how impactful the restructure would be and needed to consult with Unitec whānau and communities more.

"Unitec was built in partnership with Māori. For major decisions like this, we should have engaged better to honour Te Noho Kotahitanga, seeking input, listening more to staff, students, Te Roopū Mataara and Te Rūnanga o te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka before deciding on the right path."

"While we consulted with those who were directly affected by the restructure and their direct reports as well as other stakeholders, we didn't engage in the way our people at Unitec expected."

The institution told RNZ it had sincerely apologised for the harm caused and had attempted to arrange a meeting with Te Roopū Mataara to discuss the issues and a way forward.

Unitec was committed to re-establishing a Te Tiriti o Waitangi framework.

"Our board chair and CEO met with the Te Tira Kāpuia chair, as recently as Friday, and reinforced our willingness to meet and talk through the issues and possible remedies."

"Unitec reaffirms its commitment to upholding our Te Tiriti obligations and the values of Te Noho Kotahitanga. Our sincere commitment is that we will begin to rebuild relationships where they have been strained and rebuild trust where it has been lost. We will learn to improve for the benefit of our students, staff, Te Tiriti partners and the broader community."