In case you missed it: last year Victoria University announced plans to rename itself the University of Wellington. Members of the university’s executive then announced plans to rename the university Te Herenga Waka – adding that the Maori name would not replace the newly proposed name, but would sit alongside it. The proposed name change split students, staff and Wellingtonians almost immediately, with sharp lines emerging between those who supported the change, those who opposed it, and those who couldn’t care less.
Proponents of the change said the new names would support the decolonisation of the city and differentiate the university from international tertiary education providers which also featured the name ‘Victoria’. Opponents said the name change was unnecessary, expensive (it was estimated it would cost around $1 million to implement), and would undermine the prestige and honour of the university. (And, of course, those who ‘didn’t care’ repeated their opinions loudly, often, and in full caps under Facebook articles).
The university received a petition signed by more than 10,000 Wellingtonians opposed to the change, and shortly thereafter Wellington City Councillors began expressing their disapproval of the university’s plan. Despite this the university decided to forge ahead – filing an official recommendation to Education Minister Chris Hipkins asking him to okay the change in September of 2018. Vice-chancellor Professor Grant Guilford said it needed the rebrand, as the international identity crisis caused by its common name was costing the university donations and prestige. Hipkins’ answer came back in December: a firm no, on the basis that the university had failed to consult properly with stakeholders “who should have their views considered”.
Many assumed this rejection would mark the end of the university’s attempts to rebrand itself. But, at a university council held in mid-February of this year, staff reported the minister’s rejection was “considered” but not acted on. A spokeswoman for the council, Katherine Edmond, indicated the council was not quite ready to give up the fight, saying it would be taking time to consider options, and would take into account “the views of the university and legal and other advice”. Edmond could not confirm what we can expect from the university council in the future, but one thing is for sure: we will be on the edges of our seats to find out what happens next in this long-winded debacle.
Craccum’s only wish is that the next issue Victoria University deals with – be it student mental health, student housing problems, or sexual harassment on campus – brings this level of engagement from students, alumni, staff and the media. Yeah, right.