Victoria University of Wellington may attempt to change its name one more time.
The news comes after the university’s council received two legal opinions on Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ December 2018 decision to veto a proposed name change. According to a spokesperson for the council, the two legal opinions – which were sought by the university following the decision, and have yet to be released to the public – both suggest the university would have legal standing to seek a judicial review of the decision. A judicial review would allow a court to consider whether Hipkins was acting within the scope of his powers when he vetoed the name change. The court could then uphold the minster’s decision, or declare it unlawful.Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford says the legal opinions both agree Mr Hipkins has “misdirected himself under the law” by failing to act “in a way that both reflects his role and accords with the law”. Guilford indicated the council would now be considering whether or not to seek a judicial review of Hipkins’ decision.
The opinions were sought as part of an ongoing feud between Victoria University of Wellington and the wider student and Wellington community. The feud began last year, when the university council announced they would be unilaterally changing the university’s name. Shortly after announcing the decision, the university was deluged with messages from students calling on the council to rescind the proposal. The university received a petition signed by 10,000 Wellingtonians, and shortly thereafter Wellington city councillors began expressing their disapproval of the proposal. Despite this, the university pressed on with the name change, filing an official recommendation to Hipkins towards the end of September. Hipkins denied the request on the basis that the university had not consulted properly with its faculty and student body. Several “stakeholders” who “should have had their views considered” had been ignored by the university, Hipkins said. The university would have to show it had listened to and engaged with these stakeholders before the name change could take place.
It was hoped the decision would encourage the university to solicit opinions from students and the wider Wellington community. Unfortunately, it appears the university council has instead chosen to dig in its heels. The university has made no attempt to solicit the opinion of the general public following the decision. Instead, in a series of closed-door meetings, the council has debated how best to attack the minister’s decision on legal grounds. Speaking to RNZ, alumni and council-member Traci Houpapa said she thought certain members of the council had missed the point of Hipkins’ decision. “I think that rebuilding, or attempting to regain trust and confidence with our university community would have been the smart first step [to ensure the name was changed ],” Houpapa said, “not going to media”.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he will not be providing comment while the university seeks legal action.