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Māori academics allege structural racism within Waikato University, seek to lay Treaty claim

A group of Māori academics are on the brink of laying a Treaty claim against Waikato University after alleging a series of breaches they say is caused by structural racism in the institution. 

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They’re alleging a series of breaches based on structural racism within the institution. Source: 1 NEWS

Six academics, who have sought the protection of a whistleblowers Act (the Protected Disclosures Act), penned a 13-page letter to the Ministry of Education alerting them of the issues.

The letter alleged “structural and ‘casual racism’” within the university. 

Other allegations also included lower pay for Māori staff, the constructive dismissal of talent across the university and no indigenous advancement plan.

The university refuted all allegations.

Relations started souring two years ago when the university proposed a restructure to turn its Māori and Indigenous Studies from a faculty into a school. The proposal would place the faculty under Social Sciences, rather than be standalone faculty. 

It prompted a protest outside the vice-chancellor's office at the time. 

Mr Quigley told Stuff in 2018 the proposed changes wouldn’t diminish the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies’ autonomy.

He said the changes aimed to make academic unit sizes more uniform.

Pou Temara, a Waikato University professor who wants to go public about his involvement with the letter, said the proposal meant some people “felt that that would be the beginning of the ‘whitening’ of Māori studies”. 

“Racism reveals itself when you are in a position of power, real power,” he said.

Professor of indigenous education at the university Linda Tuhiwai Smith is also going public.

“It is a sign of leadership, it is a sign of what’s happening in the belly of an institution,” she said.

The pair are also worried about the relationship between Waikato University and Waikato-Tainui.

“The fact is we are on iwi land we should have a great relationship with that iwi,” Ms Smith said.

Others, however, are fearful of retribution and don't want their identities revealed. 

In a statement, Waikato University said it was “yet to see evidence of endemic racism, but remains open to discussion about any concerns”.

The statement also said Mr Quigley was someone trying to integrate te ao Māori into the university, noting he “speaks te reo Māori well enough to speak entirely in te reo in pōwhiri”.

Khylee Quince, a senior law lecturer at AUT, said that as the group used the Protected Disclosures Act, “that hints that something quite systemic or institutional [is what] they wish to have addressed”.

She said using the Act was “unusual”.