Victoria University’s proposal to change its name has drawn a firestorm rebuke from students, alumni and the community-at-large, who have reacted with outrage, indignation, ambivalence – and support
Last Friday night, the university released 140 pages of documents explaining its decision to drop Victoria from the institution’s name, drawing immediate rebuke from students and notable alumni.
The university said the council had agreed “in principle” to rebrand as University of Wellington in order to gain a stronger international reputation and name recognition around the world.
If approved, the Māori name would also change. Instead of Te Whare Wānanga o te Ūpoko o Te Ika a Māui, it would become Te Herenga Waka, the name of the marae on Kelburn Campus.
The final decision would come down to the education minister, Chris Hipkins, who has in the past said he would need to see evidence of community support to approve any change.
There will be another round of consultation, which closes on 13 August, before a final decision will be made on whether to approach Hipkins.
The University Council will make its final decision on 27 August. The Council comprises of two students, two staff members, four ministerial appointments, two Māori appointments, the Chief Executive, and the Vice Chancellor.
In the wake of the announcement, reaction was swift and divided, provoking debate over costs, research methodology, colonialism, and the authenticity of the consultation process.
Students are planning a protest against the name change outside Guilford’s office on 7 August. As of August 2, the event had over 300 people “going” or “interested”.
Documents released under the Official Information Act have revealed that the university paid $157,151 to the research agency, Colmar Brunton, to study how international students choose a university. The expenses jumped to $236,151 as the university bought trademark protection for the name, as well as other potential future names, overseas.
If the proposal passes, the university estimates the cost will rise to nearly $1 million. “Compared to other universities, this cost is miniscule,” the Vice Chancellor, Grant Guilford said, citing that the University of Technology in Sydney spent $22 million to change its name.
Students have criticised that this money could resolve the long wait times for student health, specifically student counselling. But Guilford justifies the cost by point to a cost-benefit analysis.
“When you start to realise that the investment will bring you money, and you get more money, then you can start investing back into student health and those sort of things.”
Ross McComish, a founding member of Market Research Society and the Association of Market Research Organisations, says, “the reliability and accuracy of the [Colmar Brunton] research has been grossly misrepresented”.
McComish said the margin of error in the Colmar Brunton Research is up to ten times higher than the 2.6 percent the Vice Chancellor has cited.
“The margin of error is the error [Colmar Brunton] calculated on their own survey. Their methodologies are standard and approved,” said Guilford.
Guilford continued to say the research has “formed a very minor part of the decision. [McComish] is down in the weeds, worrying about the methodology”.
Having a lot of time on his hands and becoming sufficiently indignant, McComish created the Facebook page “Stick with Vic” to unite community members opposed to the name change.
The “Stick with Vic” opposition insists that the importance of the university’s legacy outweighs the purported benefits of a name change. Furthermore, the group says that dropping “Victoria” dishonors the Queen and the Treaty of Waitangi.
Te Rangi Waaka, a religious studies student, is for the name change. He argues that this shared history isn’t universally venerated, saying that to some, Victoria represents “the beginning of broken promises, extreme heartache, land dispossession, rape, genocide (as the case of Parihaka), intergenerational trauma, cultural and spiritual disconnection, and poverty.”
Waaka said that New Zealand would still not lose its colonial history from changes such as this.
“It is in the very streets we walk, the language we speak, the sounds we hear and the clothes we wear.”
In a statement, the Chancellor, Neil Paviour-Smith said that the change of the Māori name is a future-focused move, “draw[ing] our communities together and put[ting] them at the heart of the University.”
The University consulted a range of groups both internally and externally about the name change, including the first Professor of Māori Studies, Sir Prof Hirini Moko Mead who was responsible for the establishment of Te Herenga Waaka Marae.
According to Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) Professor Rawinia Higgins, the university’s iwi partnership groups were also “very” supportive of the proposed Māori name.
Jade, a Māori student at Vic, wasn’t on board with the new Māori name. “I just think calling the University ‘Te Herenga Waka’ takes away from the uniqueness of the marae for Māori students,” she said.
Higgins said, “if anything the proposed name change will enhance the uniqueness of the marae because rather than being a straight translation of the English, the proposed name is more meaningful and connected to where our iho (essence) of things Māori are at this university.”
“If anything, it’s easier for Pākehā to say, and it gives visibility to the marae of which it is named after,” said Waaka.
Though the university claims the name change has been a 17-month long intensive process, the majority of students and alumni feel they have been blindsided, without proper inclusion on the matter.
“What’s really at stake is the university pretending to give a shit and then doing the complete opposite of what its students and community want,” said Liam Powell, a politics, international relations, and law student.
“This name change is stupid and I hate it,” said Vic alumni and RNZ journalist Jamie Tahana.
VUWSA has voiced support for the change, but said they “ultimately would support whatever students saw as the right decision”.
On 1 August VUWSA sent out a submission calling student feedback about the name change. Within a day had they had roughly 380 responses.
“It’s great to see students participating in the conversation, albeit a little bit later than hoped,” said VUWSA president Marlon Drake.
“I think if it was highly contested and people were unhappy, most likely, it would be voted into more discussion,” said Guilford.