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JOHN RAINE: Cultural High Noon in our Universities

Politicisation of our Universities

About a year ago, I first wrote with co-authors on this platform about the cultural shift and de facto politicisation of our universities [1]. By now I thought we might have seen a steadying of the ship and a true course set once again. The current reality is very worrying.

Throughout the Western world the infusion into universities of critical social justice (CSJ) theory and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) politics - now, ironically, exclusionary, racist and intolerant - is producing a generation of graduates steeped in postmodern relativist (frequently anti-science) thinking, embracing identity politics and the victim-oppressor mindset. It has caused division in our country rather than encouraging much-needed unity. Our tertiary institutions and public research funding system have also been placing equity ahead of merit and drifting towards mediocrity. Do we want this sort of thinking in the next generation of public service or business employees, or indeed in our politicians?

For those wanting to wade more deeply into this ideological morass, Helen Pluckrose has given a comprehensive but accessible description of postmodernism and its damaging consequences [2]. Some recent examples:

• DEI politics have recently been most visible overseas in student pro-Palestine demonstrations on campuses, particularly in the USA, but more widely on gender and racial identity issues. In the UK, universities have been expressing guilt over British colonial activity of the 19th century and earlier. (

• Staff at the University of Exeter, U.K., have recently been pressured to sign up to a Stonewall anti-transphobia pledge to demonstrate allyship with transgender students Staff who do not want to commit to this have been vulnerable to being harassed and marginalised. (

• The University of Liverpool, U.K., in decolonising the history curriculum, has advised staff to teach that whiteness and heterosexuality are a problem. (

• The Deputy Head of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex, U.K., has stated that traditional exams are racist and colonialist, and students should not be expected to conform to proper English. (

• At the 28th May 2024 Victoria University of Wellington free speech event ( the large majority of speakers advocated for particular identity groups, and in some cases for limitations on free speech, rather than constructively discussing how to preserve freedom of speech in our universities. Notable exceptions were Jonathan Ayling (Free Speech Union), and the New Zealand Initiative’s Michael Johnston who anchored the final discussion with much common sense on freedom of speech. How can a university foster open debate on all subjects if a particular interest group is able to influence the Vice Chancellor to impose strictures on discussion of ideas and political positions (not hate speech, I emphasise) because one identity group may feel unsafe, whether it concern race, gender identity or some other issue?

• In the 10th June 2024 Free Kiwis Podcast James Kierstead and Michael Johnston interviewed Dr Peter Ridd, who was dismissed from James Cook University in Australia for breaching a confidentiality requirement imposed by the University in relation to talking publicly about his research results on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. His research disagrees with the orthodox views from heavily funded research in the University attributing damage to the Reef to climate change. In this case, there was effectively a major suppression of academic freedom of speech. (

In this country, Treaty politics, destructively escalated by Te Pati Māori since the October 2023 election, have perhaps diverted attention from the ongoing quiet cultural revolution in the education system, in the Tertiary Education Union, and in the introduction of tikanga into the law [3]. While we can hope that Erica Stanford’s curriculum working group will put a stop to the cultural re-engineering in the draft schools’ curriculum of the last government, the university sector operates with greater independence.

Treaty Politics

Under the Education and Training Act 2020 281(1)(b) [4], university Councils are required to acknowledge the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but also to preserve academic freedom. This has led to a conflicted situation in which giving of expression to Treaty principles has begun to trump academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The Victoria University of Wellington Treaty Principles Statute of February 2019 and the later Treaty Guide [5,6] contain eight principles. Of these, in particular rangatiratanga, (autonomy and self-determination), whai wāhi (participation) are potentially intrusive on academic freedom. In addition, the principle of kawanatanga (governance) ensures that the University Council has Māori representation, and discharges appropriately its obligations to Māori. However, no such measures are in place to ensure representation of other groups.

David Lillis [7] has recently produced a critique of Massey University’s Curriculum Transformation Discussion Paper. Lillis highlights the potentially unbalanced nature of the Massey curriculum transformation, where a very Treaty-centric approach may politicise the curriculum and weaken it for students in the sciences.

Such university Treaty principles statements were perhaps intended to make universities more culturally comfortable and supportive to Māori, but rather than meeting particular obligations to one group, Te Ao Māori appears to be becoming the dominant and required university culture. There is clearly an imperative on universities to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for Māori, but that should not mean a major cultural transformation of the institution. Apart from not recognising that our universities have students from over 100 ethnic/cultural backgrounds, this development runs counter to the idea of the university as a secular, apolitical body.

In academic programmes, we are seeing the introduction of mandatory matauranga Māori courses and/or course content, notably in the sciences, where matauranga Māori cannot be equated with modern science. Such course content cannot be questioned by non-Maori and therefore becomes indoctrination. This situation recalls earlier days of the Catholic Church where to question dogma was heresy.

Giving greater recognition to Te Ao and matauranga Māori has also unduly influenced contestable research funding. Applicants to the MBIE Endeavour Fund have been advised not to apply if their project does not engage with Māori communities, or does not include Māori academics, with a Māori mentor to support Māori researchers. This is an oppressive and unreasonable imposition for researchers, for example in the fundamental sciences such as nuclear physics or biochemistry, or in engineering and technology areas such as micro-electronics, software and AI. As a result, many top researchers are now cut out of the funding system.

In acknowledging Treaty principles, University Councils must operate with a light touch so that we do not see cultural transformation of our universities into ethno-institutions that will have little credibility internationally among the group of respected universities that have managed to overcome, or at least sensibly moderate, the CSJ/DEI movement. If aspects of rangatiratanga, whai wāhi, tikanga and kawa are imposed rather than optional, this leads to politicisation of the university and militates against political neutrality, academic freedom, freedom of speech and the very essence of what the university should be, as described in the Kalven report [8]. To deal with this, Treaty provisions may need to be removed from the Education and Training Act.

The University Advisory Group

Will the University Advisory Group, currently deliberating under Sir Peter Gluckman, be able to resist pressure to include in their report to Government general statements around the Treaty, equity and diversity that are open to interpretation that would allow the present decolonisation agenda in education to continue? Wananga are openly defined by Te Ao Māori, which is as it should be. New Zealand universities should be politically and culturally neutral, and not pressured into an ethnically defined culture, progressively more inward-looking, and saddled with different rights and standards for one or more groups?

Resistance to oppressive DEI politics in the university has appeared in a few US universities [9] but this worldwide situation could get worse before it gets better. Calls for moderation need to be joined up internationally as a collective voice for preservation of the essential character of the university, a recovery of the values of the liberal enlightenment, merit as the key criterion for assessing student admissions and performance, and in measuring staff teaching and research,

In this regard, the University Advisory Group has a responsibility to recommend as a priority the preservation of institutional neutrality and the restoration of meritocracy in the university and research systems.

John Raine is an Emeritus Professor of Engineering and held Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellor roles in three New Zealand Universities.


This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Breaking Views NZ 19th June 2024.


1. John Raine, David Lillis, Peter Schwerdtfeger, “Where are our Universities Heading,” Breaking Views NZ, 28th June 2023.

2. Helen Pluckrose, “Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained.” Quillette, 26th May 2024

3. Gary Judd KC, “Tikanga Regulations Advance a Political Agenda”, Bassett Brash and Hide 16th June 2024

4. New Zealand Education and Training Act 2020. (As of 22 February 2024)

5. Victoria University of Wellington “Treaty of Waitangi Statute”, 11th February 2019.

6. Victoria University of Wellington Māori Hub, “Te Tiriti o Waitangi Guide”

7. David Lillis, “New Initiatives at Massey University”, Breaking Views NZ, June 14th 2024

8. Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action, University of Chicago, 11th November 1967. Report on the University's Role in Political and Social Action (Kalven) (

9. “DEI: The Great Misunderstanding - On the Collectivist Nature of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Ideology,” Social Impurity, May 11th 2024

3,337 views136 comments

136 comentários

I don't have a dergee, but if I were going to change things, I'd start with the The University Advisory Group. Who are they? who selects them? If the group is full of woke professors, with no opposition then you can't do much to change things.

I find that all of these advisory committees are full of elitist lefties. We(conservatives) need to get off our asses and get involved. There should be some High Flautin' conservatives that can enjoin these elitist controlling committees and put a stop to this shit.


Luxon’s approach to governing could be be summed up as ‘get the economic settings right and, over time, the social issues will recede in importance’. However, the interdependence of the social and the economic spheres complicates policy formulation. We know, for example, that increased productivity requires a well-educated, socially-cohesive population, alongside sound economic settings.

In acknowledging our cultural uniqueness as a western nation, our universities must not lose sight of internationally accepted standards – both in performing their educative function and in advising government.


John Hurley
John Hurley
21 de jun.

On The Platform (or RCR, or other), they frequently talk about tanz and "woke issues".

There is an intelligent theory behind it all and the ideas themselves need to be challenged to invoke a response at the academic level.. There may be a niche position for someone to do this for every issue that bobs up (to give it context).

I have just been reading a book chapter by Kathryne Anderson on the "racialisation and gendering" of Chinese in Vancouver's Chinatown. It starts out by stating that race is an imagined fiction that overlooks peoples subjectivities (how they see themselves) and relates that to who has power to describe those groups and create them as some exotic form ("othered") as…


Evil Deceitful “Woke” Progressives

From US universities’ scene but applicable to NZ  -

You have to hand it to the “progressives” — they are masters in the manipulation of language to cloak their plans. They say they desire campuses with diversity, equity, and inclusion. All sweet-sounding words — no one could object, right?

But the truth is that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI is a cover for intolerant people to push a set of ideas that are completely at odds with those on which the US was built.

Many college professors have learned that the hard way, among them David Richardson, who tells his story in today’s Martin Center article.

At his California school, he was identified as a DEI…


My son is completing the first year of Engineering. The diversity and Maori agendas have assaulted the curriculum with a pincer attack which will destroy the value of the course itself. Which I suppose is their goal. The end result is that University will need to be completely reformed, after being closed down entirel.y. All courses, let alone STEM. The great purge is the only answer. Communism has been tried before, and will never work.

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