Dawn Freshwater will be replacing Stuart McCutcheon as the University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor, starting on the 16th March.
The decision was announced last June and she will become the university’s first female Vice-Chancellor, since it was founded in 1883.
Chancellor Scott St John said then a “comprehensive international search” had been undertaken to search for the new Vice-Chancellor, and Freshwater received unanimous support from University Council members and staff who were engaged in the selection process.
“As well as academic and professional leadership capability, it was important that the new Vice-Chancellor had a number of other attributes that we identified as important to the wider University community,” he said.
“It was clear that a values-based leadership style and commitment to Māori and Pacific development, and an understanding of the civic, regional and global relevance of the University of Auckland were critical factors in the selection. I believe we have very much met this brief with the appointment of Professor Freshwater.”
Freshwater, who grew up in Nottingham, England, is currently the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Western Australia, a post she has held since December 2016.
Prior to her current appointment, she also held other university leadership roles, such as Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds from 2011 to 2014, and the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor and Registrar at the University of Western Australia between 2014 and 2017.
She is also an academic in mental health and has contributed to hundreds of publications.
Speaking to the university’s alumni magazine, Ingenio, in November last year, Freshwater said she is excited to be leading Auckland University and living in New Zealand.
“There are many people looking to New Zealand with envy in terms of what it’s achieving, both in innovation and punching above its weight for what people view as a small nation.”
Freshwater will be taking the University’s top job as the institution is facing a number of challenges, and has often ended up on headlines for the wrong reasons in recent years.
The university has been accused of turning its back on arts and culture.
The Maidment Theatre, the university’s premier theatre located under the Student Quad, was permanently closed and demolished in 2016, with Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon saying it was not cost-effective to continue with seismic strengthening and updating the venue after costs exceeded $16 million.
Three specialist libraries, the Architecture and Planning, Music and Dance, and Fine Arts Libraries, were closed and over a hundred support service jobs were axed in June 2018 to ensure the university remained solvent.
Problems with white-supremacy have also troubled the university.
As recent as last week, white supremacist posters have been displayed on university grounds numerous times since 2017. Incidents of students finding swastikas and neo-Nazi graffiti on campus, or being intimated by white supremacist behaviour were also reported by Craccum last year.
Despite numerous articles from media outlets after the terror attacks in Christchurch alleging a growing white supremacist movement on campus, the university has refused to acknowledge it, with Vice-Chancellor McCutcheon describing the claims as “utter nonsense”, saying “there is absolutely no evidence of an increasing problem”.
He also said while white supremacist posters are “unfortunate”, they were protected by free speech, and the university would not not officially condemn the group behind the posters or remove the posters from campus.
But just as Freshwater officially begins her new appointment, the University is facing new controversy.
In January, Stuff reported the University has purchased a $5 million mansion in Parnell to be rented by the incoming Vice-Chancellor.
The University has said in a statement that the four-bedroom property, which features a swimming pool and large garden space, will also be used for “university-related events and functions”.