Sonja Miller questions why Victoria University would want to undermine Te Rōpū Āwhina given its success over the last 16 years.
Miller is a senior staff member in Āwhina, a mentoring programme in the Faculties of Science, Engineering, Architecture and Design (SEAD) that has lifted achievement for Māori and Pacific students in the science, technology, engineering, and maths disciplines.
Āwhina has data showing Māori and Pacific students have higher degree completion rates in the SEAD faculties than students in other faculties where Āwhina does not run. However, suddenly the programme is under threat.
Deputy dean (equity) Liz Richardson established the programme in 1999.
Richardson intends to retire at the end of this year and has been working on a succession plan for when she leaves.
Initially the university proposed to replace Richardson’s position with a lower-level associate dean role on a three-year fixed-term agreement. When Āwhina staff questioned this, it became an even lower ranked director role on a two-year fixed-term agreement.
When Āwhina staff wrote to the vice-chancellor asking why the change, he said that the University did not want to prejudge the outcome of any future review.
The University has not talked with Āwhina staff or students, or provided any details about a planned review.
Professor Mike Wilson, pro-vice-chancellor (SEAD), told Radio New Zealand that the university had no plans to stop supporting or to close Āwhina and the programme was not under threat.
However, staff and students fear downgrading of the programme head position is a signal of things to come. Miller says leaving things as they are, and making sure there is another permanent deputy dean would be the best way not to prejudice any future review “At the moment they are making changes before a review even starts.”
On Tuesday around 100 Āwhina students rallied against potential changes to the programme. The students are also collecting signatures on a petition to the vice-chancellor Grant Guilford calling on him keep the programme as it is. So far, they have over 900 signatures.
TEU has had issues trying to get a meeting with the university about this issue.