Support for Dean Brendan Hokowhitu and Linda Tuhiwai Smith at the University of Waikato

Hon Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education
Hon Kelvin Davis, Associate Minister of Education for Crown/Maori Relations
Sir Anand Satyanand, Chancellor University of Waikato

September 11, 2020

Dear Minister Hipkins, Associate Minister Davis, and Chancellor Satyanand,

Chokma (greetings)! I write as Director of the American Indian Studies Center (AISC) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to express the strong concerns of our faculty, staff, and students regarding the situation of institutional racism at the University of Waikato. This is most recently manifested in the treatment of the Maori Faculty, and in particular Dean Brendan Hokowhitu and Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith by Vice Chancellor Quigley, but also reflects actions taken by the University of Waikato more generally.

We at UCLA are well acquainted with Dean Hokowhitu’s work, particularly in relation to the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), of which I currently serve as Past President, and of which Dean Hokowhitu serves as President-elect. Our annual conference was hosted by the Maori Faculty, with Dean Hokowhitu as chair of the host committee, in 2019. That event in Hamilton, the largest every hosted by the Association, highlighted the Maori Faculty as the crown jewel of the University of Waikato and impressed the scholarly community from around the world as an example of how Indigenous education could be manifested in institutions of higher education. This extraordinary global event was all the more remarkable coming on the heels of the University of Waikato’s effort to divisionalize the Maori Faculty—effectively eliminating it—a move that was strongly opposed by Dean Hokowhitu, NAISA leadership and membership, and the AISC at UCLA.

It is difficult, in 2020, not to read VC Quigley’s decision not to renew Dean Hokowhitu’s contract as retaliatory for his leadership in resisting efforts to subsume the Maori Faculty under the Social Sciences. Indeed, combined with the Vice Chancellor’s incomprehensible refusal to renew the contract of world-renowned professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, an intellectual founder of the field of Indigenous Studies and one of the most oft-cited Indigenous scholars in the world, one is challenged not to understand these moves as an assault on the Maori Faculty now that the international spotlight has receded. That six Maori professors, including the esteemed Professor Pou Temara, are forced to consider leaving the University altogether due to the hostile environment of institutional racism is extraordinarily unfortunate.

We are all well aware of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also aware that in this context of budgetary challenges, university leadership will make choices about where to place cuts. Importantly, whatever cuts are carried out will reflect conscious priorities of the university. Choosing to make cuts by eliminating the contracts of high profile Maori faculty sends a clear message about what is valued at the University of Waikato. In so doing, it also broadcasts a message about how racial logics come into play in university processes.

Institutional racism is present in all institutions of higher education, which reflect the power structures of the larger settler societies of which they are a part. Structural racism can be evidenced in many ways, including how visible the achievements of Indigenous peoples are in public representations. It is shocking to find that on the University’s website the 2019 NAISA Conference is not mentioned once, despite its tremendous international significance. Only a recognition of the existence of institutional racism, and on-going and explicit efforts to combat it, can begin to address the problem. We encourage you to demonstrate leadership in this regard by acknowledging the existence of structural racism at the University of Waikato, developing a systematic plan to address it, and reversing the harmful personnel decisions affecting Professor Smith and Dean Hokowhitu immediately.

Chokma’shki/thank you for your consideration of our concerns,

Dr. Shannon Speed (Chickasaw)
Director, American Indian Studies Center (AISC)
Professor of Gender Studies and Anthropology
Past President, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)