Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History

[thirteen] — The truth is out there

page 352

The truth is out there

IT IS APPROPRIATE that Victoria's fifth vice-chancellor Les Holborow's passion should be for music, not sport, departing from an early vice-chancellorial tradition of this university.1 In five or six years he would be a chief executive too, but this development represented a larger change in the culture of education, not just the culture of Victoria. While it may be tempting to make milestones out of jubilees, the end of Victoria's first century was the beginning of a very different world.

Ian Axford had left precipitately midway through 1985, satisfied that he had fixed what obviously needed fixing, keen to return to the intellectual stimulus of astrophysics and to rescue the Max Planck Institute from its own troubles – and to be there when Halley's Comet came. Like Axford, Holborow, an expatriate professor of philosophy, saw at Victoria an opportunity to come home. He, however, was committed to the move he had already made from scholarship to administration, and was to stay in the job for 12 years. A graduate of Auckland and Oxford, he had been 10 years at Dundee and from 1975 at the University of Queensland, latterly a pro-vice-chancellor there. He had applied for the vice-chancellorship at Victoria in 1981 and was invited to do so again.

Arriving in the midst of the accountancy commotion can hardly have been the easiest of introductions, although it was acting vice-chancellor Tim Beaglehole who instigated the review which resulted in the (largely amicable) restructuring of this faculty. Accommodation, Victoria's perennial problem, and in particular finding the finance for the Hunter restoration, was the major issue facing Holborow when he arrived. Reviews and restructuring, though, were to be a defining theme of the next decade, not only at Victoria. The education landscape was transformed at the end of the 1980s as the country's fourth Labour government, in its second term in office, turned its reforming eye from the economy to social policy, and set in motion the dismantling, or restructuring – depending on one's view – of New page 353 Zealand's welfare state. From 1987 education became a strategic site in the political and ideological battles that accompanied the rise of market liberalism – ‘Rogernomics’, in its indigenous manifestation – within the Labour caucus and in the wider political and policy-making sphere. The result, for universities, was a more radical and less benign transformation than that introduced by the Hughes Parry report 30 years earlier.

The Treasury, one of the architects of Labour's economic reforms, had intimated its agenda for education when the government took office in 1984, and expounded it at unprecedented length in its post-election briefing papers in 1987: education represented private capital not a public good, to be traded in a competitive marketplace. Labour did not wholly go along with this view, but it set the terms of the debate. In 1986, partly as a pre-emptive move against the Treasury's and Audit Office's growing interest in the universities, and partly prompted by the amount of political attention being paid to other education sectors, the New Zealand Vice-chancellors' Committee had commissioned an external review, which was to focus especially on New Zealand universities' international standing. The four-person committee (headed by a Canadian, Ronald Watts) was favourably impressed by the quality of what had been achieved with meagre resources. The central theme of the Watts report, encapsulated by its title, New Zealand's Universities: partners in national development, was the universities' contribution to the nation's economic and social well-being, and that the state should fund them more generously. In this (and in its style in general) it had much in common with Hughes Parry. It was released in October 1987, and almost immediately overtaken by events – the October stockmarket crash and an election – and a new process of reform.

First, the Picot report, translated into government policy as Tomorrow's Schools, disestablished the Department of Education and devolved financial, management
Leslie Holborow, vice-chancellor, 1985–98

Leslie Holborow, vice-chancellor, 1985–98

page 354 and maintenance responsibilities to schools. The devolutionary and managerial themes of the Picot reforms, and of the reform of the state sector generally, were carried over into the tertiary field by the Hawke report, authored by Victoria professor of economic history Gary Hawke, which was released in September 1988. (It is not a surprise, given this university's strength in public policy studies, but it is notable that Victoria academics were prominent as both critics and consultants of the state sector reforms.) Here, the thrust of market liberalism was laid over longer-standing concerns about non-university tertiary education in particular: low participation rates, the rapid growth and changing role of the polytechnics since the 1970s, and a confused and unco-ordinated system of qualifications and control. The central theme of the Hawke report, and the clear agenda of the government, was an ‘across-the-board’ approach to all post-compulsory education and training. His prescription was for all tertiary institutions to become independent legal entities, managed by chief executives and slimmed-down councils, held accountable to the government by individually negotiated charters (as were Picot's schools). Competition and private funding were to be encouraged, but the state would remain the principal funder of universities and polytechnics – Treasury's, and in a more extreme version the Business Roundtable's private-capital model was beyond the pale – according to a common funding formula. The University Grants Committee would be abolished, and universities would lose their monopoly over the offering of degrees. ‘Polytechnics drool, varsities sulk’, the New Zealand Herald captured the reaction to Hawke succinctly.2

Thirteen working parties, two policy documents and a determined fight by the universities, individually and collectively, later, most of the Hawke report was enacted by the Education Amendment Act in July 1990. Controversial in content and poorly drafted as well, the legislation had faced a stormy passage through Parliament. The workings of universities had not been so much in the political and public spotlight since the university reform campaign of the 1910s. The universities' challenge to the bill focused on the threat, posed particularly by the demise of the grants committee, to their institutional autonomy and by extension to academic freedom – usually a rather nebulous concept – which had also been under threat, in a quite specific way, 70 years earlier, when Victoria's Council had fought unsuccessfully to protect its professor of modern languages, von Zedlitz, against popular prejudice and political will. The University Grants Committee was seen as a necessary buffer between the state and universities (however much it had been a love–hate relationship). Considerable gains were made: ‘Varsities 1, Minister 0,’ concluded the press when the bill came back from the select committee with 103 pages of amendments.3 Statutory definitions of academic freedom and the distinctive character of universities were strengthened, and the role of academic (or professorial) boards in relation to councils defined. The role of the New Zealand Vice-chancellors' Committee vis-à-vis a new national Qualifications Authority – to exercise the Authority's statutory responsibility for ‘quality control’ of university courses and degrees – was stated. (This accommodation, however, was shortlived, and the political and pedagogical challenge that the universities waged on this page 355 front over the next five years was to absorb a good amount of vice-chancellors' and academic educationalists' attention.)4 They failed, however, to save the grants committee. The transfer of its $26 million assets – mostly the accumulated income from student fees – into the general government accounts rubbed salt into the wound.

Other legislation dealt with fees and funding. Institutions would be individually,

Council at work under the restored memorial window, 1993 (from left: deputy vice-chancellor Chris Dearden, vice-chancellor Les Holborow, chancellor Elizabeth Orr, registrar Andrew Neeson). Evening Post

page 356 annually ‘bulk funded’ on the basis of anticipated student numbers, and their councils were empowered to set the level of student fees. The new order was not entirely unwelcomed. While the death of the grants committee was lamented, bulk funding meant greater control over spending, and the potential for easier and more creative planning. The managerial culture which came with the reforms was less comfortable. The State Sector Amendment Act (No.2) passed in December 1989 brought universities into line with the wider restructuring of the public service. Vice-chancellors became chief executives, appointed for a five-year term, and the employers of university staff (but with an obligation to manage the institution in a manner consistent with the principles of academic freedom). The composition of the university Council was also changed, by the Education Amendment Act. The city council and school nominations were replaced by employer and trade union interests. A late amendment to the bill had limited academic staff representation to three – where there had been, at Victoria, five. Not too many years later, the place of academics on university councils at all would be in question.


Victoria's Council, meanwhile, was evolving of its own accord. Kevin O'Brien, retiring as chancellor in 1984, may have been the last of the long-stayers. Stout's 23 years was exceptional, but O'Brien had been there for 10, and a powerful figure on the Council for 25. His immediate successor, Appeal Court judge and former law professor Ivor Richardson, stayed for two and a half years. John McGrath, one-time student president and Council member for 20 years, left after three when appointed solicitor-general. He was followed, briefly, by Douglas Fraser, a retired businessman (rather than a lawyer), whose commercial experience was valuable at a time when the university faced having to acquire some. Victoria had its first woman chancellor, Elizabeth Orr, from 1991 to 1995. She also broke tradition by being neither a doctor, a lawyer nor a commerce graduate. She had taken English and taught in that department briefly. She came to the Council in 1986 with several years' experience as executive secretary of the Association of University Teachers, and a particular commitment to equal opportunity issues, especially relating to women. This was to become an important policy concern in the university in the 1980s and '90s. There were six women on the 20-member Council when she became chancellor in 1991. The method of Council election had recently been revised and a preferential, proportional voting system introduced, intended to increase the representation of minority groups.

Douglas White, QC now, who succeeded to the chancellorship in 1996, was more in the O'Brien (and McGrath) mould, in one sense at least – a deep, enduring personal commitment to the institution, with nearly two decades on the Council and an earlier involvement in the running of student affairs. As he had done as president of the Students' Association some 30 years before, he put his mind to changing the way the Council worked: the streamlining of its business by abolishing or making only advisory a number of its committees, and moving its focus away from hands-on management (in academic appointments, for example) to policy page 357 and strategic planning. This change was already under way. Outside pressure – a minister of education's interest in the constitution of university government – had prompted the Council at the instigation of Elizabeth Orr to establish a working party on ‘governance’ in 1995. One of its suggestions for further discussion was that the size of the Council be reduced from 20 to eight or 10, with fewer if any elected representatives – refashioning it, in essence, from a council widely representative of the university community to something more like a corporate board. Fears were real during 1995 that the government, looking for leaner, business management-oriented tertiary councils, would legislate to bring this about. A change of minister, and of political priorities as the country faced its first MMP election, removed this immediate threat, and the governance issue lay in abeyance. But it was back on agendas within a few years. One of the most outspoken proponents for the view that there was no place for academics on university councils was a member of Victoria's own, the executive director of the Business Roundtable, Roger Kerr. (It is worth recalling here that it was Victoria's university reformers who had long ago led the fight for professorial power.)

The university at large was also busy restructuring itself. Victoria embarked on its first round of ‘strategic planning’ in the late 1980s. This was not wholly different from the well-honed practice of quinquennial planning, without perhaps a certain element of kite-flying and wishful thinking, and soon further refined by the government's requirements, under the new state sector regime, for a charter, statements of objectives and quantifiable outputs. Strategic planning by whatever name was not new, but universities, like other public enterprises, spent more time now thinking about and quantifying what they were doing. Accountability and, along with this, self-scrutiny, was a key principle of the new order of public sector management, and the theme of the new vice-chancellor's first address to the staff. Products of this culture included a more formal and transparent promotions procedure, adopted in the late 1980s, and (belatedly) a system of regular staff appraisal, narrowly voted by the Academic Board in 1994. Within the wider university environment various processes of ‘quality management’ were established, including visits by the Vice-chancellors' Committee's Academic Audit Unit: Victoria was subjected to its first, and came through admirably, in 1995. Reviews of departments, administrative as well as academic, begun in the 1980s settled into a regular cycle. (Inevitably there came a review of the reviews. The Stout Research Centre, in the wake of its own in 1995, changed the name of its journal from the Stout Centre Review to New Zealand Studies in part because, the director quipped, the ‘r’ word had been appropriated by the whole review business and acquired ‘an “inquisitional” tone that was not considered appropriate’.)5

In the wake of the State Sector Amendment Act, Victoria also reviewed its own management structure during 1990. The vice-chancellor kept much the same close company of advice and support: a deputy vice-chancellor, with responsibilities in such areas as staffing, finance and corporate planning; an assistant vice-chancellor, for academic advice; and the assistant to the vice-chancellor on the buildings and site. The Professorial Board had been renamed the Academic Board. The Committee page 358 of the Vice-chancellor and Deans was divided into a planning and resources committee and a deans committee, the latter having an essentially academic brief. Leaving the central administrators – the registrar, the vice-chancellor and his advisors – to concentrate on policy and planning, some budgetary responsibility was devolved to faculties, which would be headed now by full-time executive deans. Commerce, of course, had already acquired a full-time dean, for a different reason. Executive deans of science (zoology professor John Wells) and arts (Tim Beaglehole) were appointed in 1991. Languages and literature became part of the arts again – although the integrity of this superfaculty remained in question. Preparation of the university's first strategic plan in the late 1980s had already generated considerable inconclusive thought about what to do about arts and languages and literature (a different division into the humanities and ‘what might almost be called a new arts faculty’, the applied social sciences, was one suggestion – or perhaps into three, humanities, languages and literature, and social science – but this was evidently premature).6 The smaller faculties of law and architecture kept the old-style part-time deans, for now. In 1993 Holborow went to Henley Management College in England to learn his new craft. Being appointed a vice-chancellor and suddenly becoming a chief executive was not an easy thing; the difference was in more than name. There was a new look in the registrar's department as well. Ted Harvey, the tough-talking associate professor of chemistry who had replaced Bunt Dasent in 1977, retired in 1989 and was succeeded by a flamboyant, bow-tie-wearing Australian, Andrew Neeson.

Even the university timetable was restructured. Along with other New Zealand universities Victoria debated, at length, moving from a three-term to a two-semester year (a debate in which it had been engaged, in fact, since the early 1970s). A longer mid-year exam period was introduced before a new calendar in 1996 which defined two four-month ‘trimesters’, with a third over the summer when, increasingly, some credit-bearing courses (as well as introductory and Continuing Education ones) were offered. The extra term was partly to make more efficient use of resources (empty lecture theatres). Ten years earlier, Ian Axford's suggestion that the university teach over the summer months had been conspicuously unpopular. Also in the interests of efficiency – as well as in response to the changing character and lifestyles of the student body – the normal teaching day was lengthened in 1994 by an hour at each end (to 8am–6pm), and the 12– 2pm free period on Wednesdays abolished. This raised some protest. The Students' Association objected to the loss of at least one free lunchtime which, Ian Boyd pointed out, also had the benefit of letting fresh air into classrooms. It was hard enough, some academics observed, getting students to 9am lectures.


It was not only Victoria's experience that Council meetings, and the university generally, became less collegial in the politically charged and financially constrained atmosphere of the 1990s. Nor was this only an impression born of nostalgia for simpler, more intimate times (in staff memories, usually the 1940s and 1950s). page 359
Students consider the new regime. Evening Post

Students consider the new regime. Evening Post

Not that there had not been tense times and divisive issues before, of course: the fate of the Hunter building in the 1970s, notably. But every year, now, the Council faced the difficult task of setting the level of student fees. These meetings were particularly tense. In 1989 a full-time undergraduate student paid tuition fees of $516. In 1991 they paid $1300. Bursaries as they had once been known were replaced by a hardly generous, means-tested student allowance scheme. The government – a National one now, but pursuing with enthusiasm the direction of Labour's reforms – announced during 1991 further elements of its tertiary assistance strategy: student loans, and a targeted Study Right entitlement, paid to the universities and ostensibly an equity measure intended to increase participation by under-represented groups (but set at too low a level to be an effective one). In 1992, the first year in which it determined its own, Victoria charged a differentiated fee for Study Right and non-Study Right students, as the government had intended it should; but thereafter, until 1999, it decided on a flat fee in the interests of equity and open entry, while the chancellor and vice-chancellor found occasions to publicly state the university's opposition to the discriminatory Study Right scheme, student loans and the ‘user pays’ trend of tertiary funding policy.
The effect of the new regime on enrolments was immediately noticed. Numbers of mature students and part-time students fell, and private overseas student numbers dropped sharply when fees were increased to cover full course costs in 1990 (in that year, to $8000 and $14,000 depending on the faculty). Overall, however, student numbers, ever unpredictable, lurched upwards in the 1990s – passing the 10,000 mark (at last) in 1991, nearing 13,000 in 1995 – while government funding per student fell. This perhaps was the overriding feature of the university climate in the 1990s: the rapid rise in student numbers, coupled with continuing cuts in funding. The annual grant, moreover, was calculated in advance on the basis of estimated student enrolments, which invariably fell short of the final count (although page 360
Marching against higher fees, 1994. Salient

Marching against higher fees, 1994. Salient

not always by much). In 1992 the budget announced a 1% cut in the government grant. The vice-chancellor predicted a ‘bleak’ financial year and that the university would have to borrow, for the first time, in 1993, having used up its reserves on saving the Hunter building – although in the event it did not have to until January 1994. (The Council took this step with some nervousness, but having the financial manager of a state corporation among its number was a help.) Further major funding cuts announced in 1993 were targeted at non-Study Right, and arts, commerce and law students, of which Victoria, of course, had rather a lot. As always, this university was compelled to point out that it was disadvantaged by the funding system: higher-cost courses attracted more funding per student; three-quarters of Victora's students were enrolled in the lower-cost ones. The university budget forecast a ‘two-year financial winter’.7 Tuition fees went up year by year. In May 1994 a ministerial taskforce on tertiary funding issued an inconclusive report which presented greater and lesser versions of the user-pays future; the government followed it early in 1995 with a promise that its contribution would continue to fall. (There were some bright spots on the budgetary front, however. That year Victoria's was rated the best university annual report and financial statement for the second year running.)
page 361

Industrial relations, like fee setting, became more fraught when it became the university's own responsibility in the 1990s. In 1995, at the instigation of the Students' Association and the Association of University Staff, the Council debated whether it should, or could, increase staff salaries without raising student fees. After protracted and unsuccessful contract negotiations, the union called a one-day strike by the academic staff on 31 May – a first in a New Zealand university. These were tough times for students too. The numbers taking out loans rose sharply (from a quarter of the roll in the first year of the scheme in 1992), as did applications to the Student Assistance Fund, created by the university in 1992 to dispense ‘hardship grants’ in cases of need. For the first time in 1993 students were disenrolled for non-payment of fees. The Counselling Service experienced another surge in demand. Supporting their studies with part-time work during the academic year, as well as with the traditional summer-holiday job, was now the norm.

Fees and funding were the focus of a late-century resurgence of student militancy. In 1996 a Council working party set up to review the university's fees policy recommended that the flat fee be abandoned for a differentiated fee structure according to course costs, against the advice of the Academic Board, the Students' Association and a survey of student opinion. The student president, who had been a member of the working party, dissociated himself from the report, and in September led an eight-day occupation of the Hunter building – the fourth such incident nationally. Sixty students camped out in sleeping bags in the Council chamber. It was a seemly protest. They took care not to cause damage to the building or its furnishings, and to emphasise that their argument was with the
Academic staff on strike, 31 May 1995. Evening Post

Academic staff on strike, 31 May 1995. Evening Post

page 362 government, not the university. In the spirit of friendly relations on which this university has periodically congratulated itself, the occupation ended with a joint press conference by the vice-chancellor and the Students' Association president, and a concession from the minister of education, after a lengthy session with members of the university Council, that the government's tertiary funding policies should be reassessed (for whatever that might be worth). The incoming student president for 1997, a student radical of a once-ubiquitous kind – president of the anti-Trotskyist Radical Club – called for more participation and direct action. At the same time, however, there was a discernible rise in student (or youth) conservatism in the 1990s. The radical left was ever a minority but powerful presence; the active right was rarer. In the 1996 general election student support was conspicuous in returning former Labour MP Richard Prebble, standing for the New Right party ACT, to Parliament in Wellington Central.

Both the Academic Board and the university Council also joined the Students' Association in opposing the Tertiary Students' Association Voluntary Membership bill in 1994: an ideologically motivated attempt to extend labour market deregulation to student unions. Leaving aside the political arguments, the university opposed the bill because it was seen to be practically so difficult if not unworkable – to untangle student-funded and university-funded services, and identify those students who had paid for them and those who hadn't. The bill lapsed when its mover (maverick National MP Michael Laws) failed to appear in the House for its second reading, but it was to return. It had highlighted, of course, the perennial problem of the level, or lack, of student involvement in their association's affairs. The new president's call that year for participatory democracy to ‘break down the perception that the association is a backroom cabal operation’ was a familiar refrain.8 Offering prizes to induce students to vote in their elections made little difference: between 15% and 20% of them did, half the percentage who had in the late 1960s.

VUWSA protests in the Council chamber, July 1996

VUWSA protests in the Council chamber, July 1996

page 363


Students alone were not expected to pay the price of the progressive withdrawal of government funding. There was to be a concerted effort to find money elsewhere. Engaging in entrepreneurial activities was a stated role of academic staff (although not, of course, a primary one) in the university's 1991 charter. Policy guidelines were devised by a new research policy committee of the Academic Board. A Contract Research Office was established in 1992, superseded by VUW Research Ltd in 1994, and renamed Victoria Link in 1995, to oversee consultancy and research done under contract to both the private and public sectors, and to secure more. Contract research increased, in dollars' worth, from around $875,000 in 1991 to over $1.5 million in 1992; external grants from $671,000 to just over $1 million. The science faculty took the largest slice (and over half the university's internal research funding too). These figures must be seen in context, however: the 1994–99 strategic plan set a target of 6% of total university income to be derived from external sources. A new pool of funding available from 1993 was the Public Good Science Fund, a contestable research fund created by the government and administered by a newly established Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FORST): Victoria secured $1.3 million the first time around. (A smaller, but for the universities more important new source of government research money was the Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.)

Another strategy was the establishment of an Alumni Association and the VUW Foundation, developments closely related in purpose but carefully separated in practice. The Alumni Association was launched in 1992 to foster that affection for and life-long contact with one's alma mater that has always been a stronger feature of the British and American university traditions than of New Zealand's. The Foundation, founded late in 1989, was a more explicitly mercenary affair, to find funding for large projects for which the government would not pay, for example, endowed chairs. ‘Tapping the shoulder’ (in Axford's words) of the university's wealthy friends was not a new idea, but the establishment of the Foundation shifted this into a new gear. A $5 million campaign was launched in April 1994 and had exceeded its target by $1 million by April 1995.9

The competitive tertiary education market required the university to market itself. A new position of public relations officer was created. News VUW, the fortnightly news sheet, was replaced by a more outwardly oriented Victoria News – reverting, however, to News VUW after a few years (and renamed again, in 1997, Vic News). Creating the right impression needed a glossier look: Victoria Quarterly, subtitled ‘Town and Gown’, was launched in 1994, and the Alumni Association's Victorious in 1992.10 With sharp advertising, Victoria marketed itself in the 1990s not only to prospective benefactors but to prospective students too. It was no longer a question of addressing itself, as when the university had launched its first public relations effort back in 1957, to its historical catchment area, the ‘Middle District’. The universities now competed not only with each other for students (and EFTS dollars) but also with the polytechnics, which had responded with page 364 enthusiasm to the opportunity to enhance their academic status in the post-Hawke world. By mid–1994 there were 50 non-university degrees on offer in New Zealand, and one polytechnic had embarked on the formal process of becoming in law a ‘university’.

In this higher-stakes environment, reputation was something about which the university took more care, with sometimes uncomfortable results. In 1998 an emeritus professor, Peter Munz, responding to the growth of managerialism and the undermining of university values, argued in a letter to the press that Victoria was ‘being run as if it were a bank or a firm of stockbrokers’. This perhaps ill-judged public attack on the university and its vice-chancellor – the trend he was describing was neither peculiar to Victoria nor Holborow's own design – had been provoked by the vice-chancellor's perhaps ill-judged advice to staff about what they could and should not speak to the media about. It was a highly publicised exchange which fuelled already growing fears within the academic community at large about the fragility of academic freedom in the competitive world.11

Strategic planning became now an exercise in ‘branding’ and positioning the university in the education market in a more serious and self-conscious manner than before. Preparation of the 1994–99 strategic plan, Towards Our Century, was accompanied by keen debate. Identifying Victoria as the Capital City University was hardly an innovation. More provocative was identifying its ‘distinctive areas of focus’ which were to be the basis of its academic identity and the themes for future growth (policy studies; New Zealand and its South Pacific setting; Asian studies; environment, conservation and sustainable development; applied social science; management of science, technology and innovation; and materials science. Where the creative arts fitted in here was one question asked). Most contentious was setting a growth target for the university roll of 3% over five years. Was this
University advertising, 1996

University advertising, 1996

page 365 wise, some asked, in a climate of declining government funding, uncertain enrolment trends and deteriorating staff:student ratios? The figure was modified, accordingly, to 2–3%. The larger question here was what kind of institution Victoria wanted to be: as professor of statistics David Vere-Jones put it, a ‘white dwarf’ or a ‘red giant’?12

Specific enrolment targets defined Victoria's future more carefully in kind. Graduate enrolments were to increase from 14.5% of the roll to 18% (initially the goal was to have been 20–25%). This figure in fact was exceeded in 1995.13 The common response of New Zealand universities to the entry of polytechnics into the undergraduate field was to reposition themselves at the top end of the market, to focus on postgraduate qualifications and research – although this too was a contentious policy, challenging a traditional commitment to equity and open entry. The principle of open entry, as a vice-chancellor once elaborated, enabled the university ‘to embody and foster the values of New Zealand society’: it was important that the universities remain part of the social mainstream and not represent themselves as ‘the perpetrators of exclusivity and elitism’.14 That philosophy was undermined by the competitive environment.

The strategic plan also defined a policy of ‘internationalisation’, which came to mean sending Victoria students overseas and establishing co-operative relationships with universities there, as well as attracting their students here. Enrolment of international students was meant to increase from 6% of the roll to 10% over the five years. This target appeared elusive: by 1997 the numbers of overseas students had in fact fallen to 4%. Increasing the numbers of Maori and Pacific Island students was already part of the university's equity objectives, and here there had been some success, assisted by the government with dedicated equity funding in the late 1980s. Maori students increased from 3.4% of the roll in 1989 to 8.7% by 1997; Pacific Islanders increased more slowly, from 2.3% to 3.6% between 1987 and 1997. Maori and Pacific Island liaison officers were appointed. This was just one element of Victoria's ‘partnership’ strategy, as outlined in the 1991 charter and strategic plan, by which the university recognised its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. Measures aimed at protecting te reo and tikanga Maori, the language and culture, aside from teaching them, included incorporating Maori phrases into university documents, and allowing students to answer exams in Maori (from 1993) and, later, assignments as well.15 Maori ceremony was incorporated into graduation in 1987, and an additional Maori graduation was held at Te Herenga Waka marae from 1992.16 This was not uncontroversial. The Council would not allow the marae ceremony to open with a prayer, although this was Maori practice: New Zealand universities were secular institutions. (The prayer was said anyway.) There were some within the university's Maori community too who disapproved of a separate Maori graduation – although the two ceremonies were never to be seen as mutually exclusive. In 1991 Victoria adopted a new logo incorporating a Maori design, and a few years later took a Maori name, Te Whare Wananga o te Upoko o te Ika a Maui, denoting its geographical location: the university at the head of the fish of Maui.17

page 366

Other initiatives under the heading of equity contributed to the university's changing institutional culture in the 1980s and 1990s. An equal employment opportunities officer was appointed in 1988. In 1990, 29% of the academic staff, but 47% of lecturers, were women; Maori made up just 5% of the staff, and were overwhelmingly in the lower grades, although Maori appointments outside the Department of Maori Studies were growing. A committee and procedures for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment were established in 1985–86. Creche facilities were extended. Physical access around the campus for people with disabilities was improved (with not only wheelchair ramps but also braille signs on lifts, and hearing-looped lecture theatres). There was, too, a continuing effort to protect and enhance the university's natural environment: to re-establish or introduce native and rare flora within the grounds.

It was in this context that that ‘hoary old chestnut’, whether to keep the Victoria in Victoria, was raised again. A member of the Council, Hugo Manson, moved in 1992 that Victoria be dropped from the university's name because it signified an age of colonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism, paternalism and élitism. This, he seemed a little surprised to discover, ‘touched some deeply held feelings about the University’.18 There was no support on the Council, nor from the Academic Board. Victoria was here to stay (although there has been a recent move to officially nickname it, for promotional purposes, ‘Vic’). Indeed, when the City Council was looking about for a new home for Queen Victoria's statue during 1993 it approached the university. It remains to this day in Cambridge Terrace; but the Friends of Hunter marked the official reopening of the refurbished building in 1994 by commissioning a life-size sculpture (by Greer Twiss) for the atrium.


For all the self-consciousness of strategic planning, academic developments in the 1990s showed familiar patterns. This was not an economically congenial time for expansive new initiatives, unless the money was to be found elsewhere. The quest for special schools continued.

Victoria had still not quite given up its hopes in the medical field. There were plans in the late 1980s for a bachelor of pharmacy degree, to be jointly taught by Victoria and the Central Institute of Technology, but it was strongly opposed by Otago which was determined to keep any university-level pharmacy training for itself, and the proposal was rejected by an independent review. There was a further instalment, however, in the on-again off-again saga of nursing studies, in the form of a postgraduate programme in nursing and midwifery launched in 1994 (undergraduate nursing degrees would be left to the polytechnics). And Victoria, on the basis of its recognised strength in the public policy field, won the contract for a Health Services Research Centre, a collaboration with the Wellington Clinical School of Medicine funded by the Health Research Council: this was established in 1993, with a former director-general of health, George Salmond, appointed professor (although its role would not be to teach).

A Centre for Strategic Studies founded with government funding the same page 367 year was a highly successful new venture, thanks in the first instance to the reputation of the university's Institute of Policy Studies, and to the personal involvement of the vice-chancellor in the Institute of International Affairs.19 Communications, however, was a less confident development. The David Beattie Chair of Communications was established in 1985 to mark International Communications Year, with initial funding largely from the David Beattie Trust. Victoria had been chosen on the basis of its strengths in commerce, management, public policy, and social and behavioural sciences, and, naturally, its location. Finding continuing funding was difficult. So was finding a place and a role for communications as a discipline: whether there would be a department, a centre or a school, teaching or research, whether this was primarily a scholarly or an entrepreneurial activity, were considered by more than one review. These were familiar debates.

Asian studies enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s. The structural and academic issues that had bedevilled Victoria's earlier experiment in area studies were yet to be resolved, but there was a burgeoning demand. The rapid development of Japanese was also financially assisted by the Japan Foundation. Stage-one Japanese and a one-year interdisciplinary diploma in Japanese studies were introduced in 1989, a BA major in 1993. Fifty enrolments for the diploma were accepted and 120 declined in the first year it was offered; half of the 250 applicants for the first-year BA course were turned away one year. The addition of Japanese to Indonesian and Chinese accentuated the anomaly of locating Asian languages, even if only out of expediency, with the Department of Romance Languages. Creating an Asian environment in the faculty by opening an Asian studies seminar room in the Von Zedlitz building, in 1986, was not a solution. Renaming the department Romance and Asian Languages was suggested in the late 1980s; but instead a board of studies for Asian languages was established, and in the 1990s, in line with the prevailing trend, a separate department.

Interest in Chinese studies had also quickened in the late 1980s, stimulated to some extent by the rise of the pro-democracy movement in China, and further encouraged by the signing of academic exchange agreements with Chinese universities: Peking (‘China's equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge combined’), Xiamen (in Wellington's ‘sister city’) and the Beijing International University of Finance and Economics.20 Chinese language teaching was extended to stage three in 1989, while across the university there were pockets of research and teaching activity, in history and geophysics, commerce and law. A donation of several hundred volumes from the Chinese government in 1985 gave Victoria the most extensive university library collection of Chinese literature in New Zealand (building on that begun by Bertram and Buchanan). In 1991 a Centre for Asia/Pacific Law and Business (CAPLAB) was established, a research unit within the faculty of commerce and administration with close links with policy studies and law. It was superseded in 1997–98 by an Asian Studies Institute, which would co-ordinate all the university's Asia-related activities including a recently introduced Asian studies major. Business was a catalyst for the flourishing interest in Asian studies, particularly Japanese, as it was for New Zealand's belated recognition of its future as an Asia– page 368 Pacific nation. (The institute's director, Peter Harris, had been the founding director of the Asia 2000 Foundation.) Victoria appointed Australasia's first professor of Malay studies – an anthropologist and former Malaysian squash champion – in 1997. The initiative had come from the Malaysian government, and the chair was financed by it and the university with substantial support from Malaysian and New Zealand businesses.

Pacific studies, or languages, were also a growing field in the 1990s, although still a smaller one, overseen by a new Pacific board of studies – the favoured model now for fostering interdisciplinary activity. Cook Island Maori and Samoan were introduced in 1988 and 1989, specially funded by the government, with unequal success. Enrolments in Cook Island language courses were never high, although studying the society and culture was more popular; both were abandoned in 1996 and the lectureship transferred to art history for teaching Pacific art. Samoan met a stronger demand from the largest Pacific Island community in Wellington. It also provoked some resentment within the faculty of languages and literature from those who feared that its development ‘on a lavish scale’ under political pressure and privileged funding would take precedence over subjects it had long been looking to strengthen, art history being the case in point.21 The latter, however, did become a separate department, with a newly appointed associate professor, in 1994.

Reviews could be the catalyst for academic or structural change that had been a long time coming. The retirement of Professor Norrish in 1990 presented an opportune moment for a review of the modern European languages. Against the continuing opposition of the Russian Department, they were regrouped in July 1991 into the single School of European Languages that had been under discussion a decade before. The incoming professor of French, a returning graduate specialising in the social and anthropological contexts of Rimbaud and Verlaine, observed a welcome upturn in enrolments after two decades of decline. There was also intense debate now about the development of European studies. Two six-credit courses, EURO 101 and EURO 301, were developed to form the core of a European studies major – but a School of European Studies proved not (or not yet at least) to be the logical development the new professor had foreseen.

The Stout Centre's renaming of its Review in 1995 New Zealand Studies was not, in truth, a gesture of defiance at this now ubiquitous habit, as its director had passingly remarked. It signified the more important question, which was addressed by its own review, of whether the centre should develop beyond being a much-valued place for homeless scholars and sponsor of seminars and conferences, to become both a teaching and research focus for the emerging, interdisciplinary genre of ‘New Zealand studies’. But in 1999 this question, debated when the centre was established 15 years before, was still to be resolved. A review of Maori Studies was also inconclusive. It was announced at the end of 1991, on the eve of the retirement of Professor Mead – unfortunately, under the shadow of a highly publicised sexual harassment charge. The review had nothing to do with this (as inevitably it appeared). What it did address was the proposal put forward by Mead page 369
Graduation, 1980s

Graduation, 1980s

a few years earlier for the establishment of a School of Maori Studies. Mead's 1989 discussion paper had had a number of suggestions for how this might be organised, including making the department a separate faculty; or into a new, enlarged faculty of Maori and Polynesian studies; or into a Maori ‘university within the university’ with its own registry, vice-chancellor and financial control. Unsurprisingly, the latter provoked strong resistance from elsewhere in the university. The 1991 review recommended, less provocatively, the creation of a School of Maori Studies, encouragement of interdisciplinary work, and that consideration be given to the Bachelor of Maori Studies degree that the department also had in view. There was a period of hiatus before the School of Maori Studies was established, which for now meant little more than a change of name. It was not until 1997 that a new professor and ahorangi was appointed, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku.

Law's turn for an external examination arguably facilitated the rehabilitation of this faculty. It received a bluntly critical review – to the dismay of the faculty, who thought it was ill-informed and poorly presented – which concluded that, notwithstanding individual excellence in teaching and research, ‘at a corporate level the Faculty has failed to sustain its position of prominence’.22 It was especially damning on the subject of faculty management, and on the faculty's failure to reach consensus on the curriculum review in which it had been engaged for at least three years. No doubt a high staff turnover had not helped (there had been 17 resignations in five years). Intensive but inconclusive debate had continued about the form of the LLB since the Council for Legal Education had relaxed its requirements in the late 1980s, allowing the separate university law schools more page 370 room to express themselves. The reform that was carried through now was a less radical restructuring of the old degree than some that had been mooted. (A proposal to make the Victoria law degree a postgraduate one – like American law degrees – had been lost by one vote.) To assist the faculty's future development, the appointment of a full-time dean from outside the university was recommended, and quietly accepted. This strategy had already been successfully used for commerce.

The proliferation of masters degrees looked like becoming a trend in the 1990s – one which caused some consternation. (Wider concerns about ‘credentialism’ were raised by the deregulation of the tertiary sector.) Of three new masters degrees that came before the Academic Board in 1993, for example, two raised initial doubts about their academic status. Legal action initiated by four students over perceived deficiencies in another masters programme (environmental studies) was salutary, whether or not it was justified. It was the first time a university in New Zealand had faced such a challenge, although there had already been several cases concerning polytechnic courses. Legal suits by disgruntled, litigious students who had paid their often substantial fees and demanded that they get their money's worth were a product of the user-pays, competitive system: a system which encouraged institutions, in the quest for more students, to develop new programmes perhaps too quickly in response to immediate demands or in the pursuit of strategic goals.

An MA in creative writing launched in 1997 was not one of these. This followed an outstanding year for literature at Victoria, in which Victoria University Press contributed a quarter of the finalists and took four prizes in the national book awards. Bill Manhire's selection as one of three artists to travel south over the summer of 1997–98 under Antarctic New Zealand's new Artists-in-Antarctica scheme highlighted, if unwittingly, two of this university's most conspicuous, and apparently most diverse, fields of distinction. Antarctica, in fact, was a burgeoning literary genre in the 1990s, and Manhire was already at work on his own anthology of polar writing.

A more significant cross-disciplinary development in the sciences was the Master of Management Studies (Technology), and a four-year undergraduate degree combining science, technology, business and management: a BSciTech. This was an innovative, and arguably belated, response to the needs of students and the market, and to the plight of the hard sciences here. Still Victoria's Physics and Chemistry departments suffered from their university's lack of science-based professional schools. This historical problem was exacerbated in the 1990s by the reduction of basic science and mathematics requirements in the core of the commerce and architecture degrees. Perhaps the marriage of science with management, one of the university's recognised strengths, would find Victoria's sciences a new niche. It is perhaps surprising that it had not been thought of before.

The retirement of numbers of senior staff in the late 1980s and early 1990s also provided opportunities for academic regeneration. History, perhaps, was a slightly atypical case. Five members of this department (over a third of it) left page 371 within three years in the mid–1980s, and more departures followed. New appointments were made with an eye to strengthening areas such as women's history, Asian history, and New Zealand race relations (there was of course debate). History, a subject which may be prone to this, was now also experiencing a surge in demand, particularly in New Zealand history. In part this was encouraged by the country's sesquicentenary in 1990, and by a further-reaching and more complex public debate about ‘national identity’ and especially the meaning of biculturalism in the 1980s and 1990s. Such a climate also generated an employment boom for history graduates, rather as the centennial had in the 1940s, with government projects like the new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, a rejuvenated Historical Branch (under a former Victoria history lecturer, Jock Phillips), and the legal process embarked on by the Waitangi Tribunal which required an army of historical researchers and consultants. History was almost becoming a vocational degree.

There were, of course, academic casualties in the 1990s. Fifty years after this college had pioneered the field in establishing its School of Social Science, Victoria's now troubled social work programme was closed down.


Victoria's landscape was restructured physically in the 1990s too: the university moved some of its departments downtown. That it was time to expand beyond its narrow ledge above the city was recommended by a Council working party report in July 1991, and accepted by a comprehensive building and site review undertaken in 1992. A decade earlier, when it had been suggested that part of the university – the law faculty, perhaps – could move into vacant space at the teachers' college in Karori, the Professorial Board had passed a resolution opposing sending any academic department away. The law faculty had been scandalised by the idea. The plain fact of the matter now was size: Victoria was fast outgrowing its site. A collapsing inner-city property market after the 1987 crash had also made the idea of moving into town (which was a quite different prospect from Karori) a realistic one.

The 1992 site review considered the ‘rapid and largely unforeseen’ growth of the university in the past five years or so; noted that the Watts committee's estimate that Victoria's roll would reach 10,000 in 1997 had been conservative (it already had); observed that university roll forecasting was ‘a somewhat inexact science’; and planned on the basis of a growth rate of 3% per annum.23 This too was a little on the conservative side. It was decided that the maximum capacity of the old clay patch was 13,400 students, or 12,000 EFTS, and that 1000 of them should be accommodated somewhere else by 1997. This took into account some further development of the Kelburn site, particularly down ‘Culliford Drive’, where work would begin in 1998 on a southern extension to the Laby building for the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences. Longer-term possibilities included another major academic construction north of the Von Zedlitz building in lower Kelburn Parade for the arts faculty, recognised now as the university's most indigently housed.

page 372

There was room for qualitative improvements to the existing campus as well, and the familiar pattern of musical chairs continued. The most spectacular development in the 1990s was the student union extension, an imaginative and appropriate use of Victoria's ‘challenging’ topography, at last, which won an architectural award for its ‘raw energy and … breathtaking bravado’.24 Unlike the Kirk stairway (Culliford's folly), this one was used. The Victoria Book Centre moved in, along with a bank branch and a pharmacy, and a marketing plan was developed to promote the student union complex as a conference venue, with some success. A ‘wine bar’ opened in 1995, in the remoter hope of civilising student drinking habits. Weir House and Victoria House were extended and upgraded too, and new hostels were opened: Te Aro Hall in Taranaki Street (the old Harry Squires Hostel), which closed after just a few years; a new apartment complex in Wai-te-ata Road; and another downtown redevelopment, the McKenzie Apartments in Willis Street – joining in the vogue for inner-city apartments which hit Wellington in the 1990s – which opened in 1999. The unpopularity of halls of residence was one of several student trends of the 1960s and 1970s that were confounded in the 1990s. Demand had been outstripping places by two to one.25

The refurbishment of Old Kirk in 1991–92 also won an award, this one for energy efficiency. Law moved in here, briefly, after its ‘short-term’ (18-year) residence in the Rankine Brown building, leaving the library much-needed room to expand. Easterfield – whose individual 1950s style, parquet floors and tiling, glass bricks and classy foyer has always been overshadowed by the colonial Gothic of Hunter – was earmarked for a staged (and progressively delayed) retrofit. The library underwent a major internal redevelopment and reorganisation, only completed when its last academic tenants had gone. Unfortunately, a new external stairway intended to ease human circulation problems was one of the aesthetic lapses of university building in the 1990s. After the opening of the restored Hunter– Stout complex, and with the decision made definitely to abandon the proposed law tower, the southern end of the Hunter building, including the old C3 lecture theatre, unknown to students of the last 20 years, was brought back into use. Infilling was only to be taken so far, however. An outcry arose when the Roman Catholic Church approached the university about selling the Mount Street cemetery, and it was rumoured, incorrectly, that Victoria was planning to put an academic building there. In fact there was no such intention; the 1992 site review had recommended its retention, preferably in university ownership, as a park-like space. But it seemed politic to withdraw from the negotiations.

The Wellington City Council agreed with Victoria about the limits of its occupation of Kelburn (parking and traffic congestion continued to be a particular source of tension), and revised the district plan to allow educational use of buildings in the Cuba precinct down on Te Aro Flat – where the Students' Association had once proposed that the university move to. Within the university, however, the idea of moving some departments somewhere else was not an immediately popular one. The Department of Theatre and Film angrily opposed the suggestion that it be one of the ones to go, on the grounds that it would destroy the interdisciplinary page 373 basis on which much of its work flourished. Commerce were none too keen either: it had been suggested that this faculty might find a congenial home in the commercial heart of Lambton Quay (the old State Insurance building was mentioned, and the Wellesley Club also considered).

Architecture was the first to leave home – for the Air New Zealand building in Vivian Street, for some years the home of the National Archives. The move divided the department, in the sense that the two professors disagreed. But it united it in convenient physical proximity with the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design, with which it had recently (in 1992) launched a jointly taught Bachelor of Design degree. Thus it addressed the two main criticisms that had consistently been made of the department by its professional reviews in the 1980s: the weakness of the design component in its teaching, and the deficiencies (aesthetic and otherwise) of its accommodation. The university and polytechnic took over the building in 1992, and after a dramatic refit in ‘industrial warehouse style’26 and an exterior coat of vivid red paint – appropriate to its location in the city's red-light area, and across the street from the Wellington Trades Hall – the two schools moved in at the beginning of 1994.

Law was the next to go. The law faculty had continued to oppose any suggestion that it be removed from the heart of the university, until it was offered the old Government Buildings at the northern end of Lambton Quay: the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere, which had once housed the entire public service and more recently just the Department of Education. It had lain empty for a time after the post-Picot demise of that department. Victoria won the tender for a long-term lease of the historic building against rival bids from the Correspondence School and a company planning a luxury hotel development. It remained in the ownership of the Department of Conservation: the government paid for its (largely) historically and architecturally faithful, multi-million dollar refurbishment while the university contributed to the project with over $1.25 million in donations through the VUW Foundation. The law school moved in in January 1996. There were those who had argued that physical proximity to the university's communities of interest was a ‘facile’ argument for moving departments off campus, but in law's case it was, after all, a compelling one. Its new home was in the heart of the country's legal and political complex, a stone's throw from the District Court, High Court, the Court of Appeal and Parliament, not to mention the city's legal houses. The Institute of Professional Legal Studies, which had assumed responsibility for the practical training required by the profession after 1987, shared the building. The judiciary were delighted to have the university next door. The law faculty found a new lease of life. A special bus service was provided, initially by the Students' Association, between the new law school and Kelburn to minimise the inconvenience for students of their distance from the rest of the university: the high proportion of them doing joint or double degrees had been one reason for the faculty's hesitation in moving.

Relocating the Centre for Continuing Education downtown, to Featherston Street in 1994, also made logical sense. Teaching first-year commerce students in page 374 Upper Hutt was another matter. In 1994, 150 Victoria students enrolled to do the first year of their BCA at the Central Institute of Technology in Heretaunga, the beginning of what was intended to be a more extensive association. Although Victoria turned down a proposal from CIT that year for the two institutions to amalgamate, it envisaged having 50 staff and 1000 students working out there in six years' time. By the end of 1995 this had been scaled down to pursuing a more modest relationship at the level of individual courses and programmes. At the end of 1996 it was decided to close the ‘Heretaunga campus’ altogether. The departure of law and architecture had relieved the pressure on the Kelburn campus, and neither stage-two commerce nor stage-one arts and science courses had been developed at CIT as once planned – leaving Victoria's Heretaunga students feeling disadvantaged, and that their courses were somehow second class.

Victoria's relationship with the Wellington College of Education, as the teachers' college was now called, also came to grief, and the Department of Teacher Education set up in the university for this purpose was disestablished only a few years later. ‘Strategic alliances’ were the coming trend of tertiary education in the 1990s, however. These ranged from cross-crediting, to formalised arrangements for co-operative research (between geophysics and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, for example), jointly taught degrees (like the Bachelor of Design), relations with universities overseas – in Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific as well as Asia, to sharing physical space to, ultimately, corporate mergers. The 1992 site review had taken as one of its planning assumptions that Victoria ‘will remain the only major university in the greater Wellington area within the foreseeable future’.27 This confidence may have been misplaced (depending on how one defines ‘foreseeable future’, of course, and perhaps ‘university’). That the first threat should come from Massey was not surprising. Fifty years after Victoria's Council had declined an invitation from the agricultural college to move up there, and Hunter had mused on a possible merger of the two; 40 years after the establishment of the Palmerston North branch, and Williams had wept when it got away, Massey was moving to Wellington. Always the most aggressively tempered of New Zealand's universities (it had already established a campus in Auckland), Massey in 1998 launched a bid to amalgamate with Wellington Polytechnic.


As it approached the end of the century Victoria embarked on another round of restructuring. This one was prompted by the perceived need for a shakeup of the senior management, to lead the university into the future. There ‘is a perception in some quarters,’ the 1994 strategic plan had observed, ‘that the institution has become more staid, traditional and less innovative than others, and that the intellectual ferment of earlier years is less evident.’28 The solution was more devolution and a more responsive management structure. In its means as well as its end it followed current fashions. After the senior management had been on an inconclusive retreat early in 1995, the Council, on the vice-chancellor's recommendation, brought in an Australian management consultancy firm, page 375

Graduation procession, December 1993 (chancellor Elizabeth Orr, centre, with pro-chancellor Douglas White on her right, and vice-chancellor Les Holborow on her left). Evening Post

McKinnon Walker.29 They came up with ‘Refocussing Victoria’, a fairly comprehensive restructuring of the university's infrastructure on the principle of devolution. The larger aim was to ‘reshape the culture of the whole university’, to make it more ‘forward-looking, open, collegial, client-focussed and self-confident’. Speed was of the essence. It was their experience that the ‘worst way to approach change in a university is piecemeal and hesitantly’.30
page 376
‘Refocussing’ – an anthropologist's view. Jim Urry

‘Refocussing’ – an anthropologist's view. Jim Urry

A professional ‘change manager’ was employed to oversee the implementation of the McKinnon Walker plan – in a somewhat modified form. Not surprisingly, the consultants' first attempt to rearrange the university's academic departments neatly into four faculties, each comprising a similar number of departments of no fewer than 15 staff, did not find universal favour. The four faculties were to have been humanities, social sciences, science and architecture, and business, government and law; the scheme had not got so far as what the resized departmental units would be. The unwieldy arts faculty was a major sticking point, and in the end it was left as one, with the addition of education (which had not long ago been promoted to separate faculty status for the purpose of its alliance with the College of Education). It would not be possible to have two faculties administering the same (BA) degree. But it was renamed humanities and social sciences, and subdivided into ‘divisions’, or ‘“mega school” structures which logically group departments with academic synergies’, which took some time to work out.31 Architecture and science did not look quite right either, but this arrangement was to stay, at least provisionally. Law rebelled against its demotion to the status of a sub-faculty school, and prevailed. To the newly named and shaped faculties and departments and schools were devolved a range of operations, from student enrolment and staff appointments, to information technology support.

A new culture required more than a new structure, though. Victoria lacked vision and focus, McKinnon Walker perceived. Through a series of ‘visioning workshops’ held at the beginning of 1997, each attended by some 30 staff and students, the university refined its Strategic Vision. A starting point was the page 377 (inevitably provocative) identification of its areas of distinctive identity: these were law, business and government; tectonic studies; seismology and volcanology; historical and heritage studies; creative and performing arts; environmental and resource management studies; aspects of applied physics and technology; mathematical and information sciences; and selected areas of the applied social sciences (most of the university, in fact).

‘Refocussing’ the central administration involved reconstituting the ‘senior management group’ to consist of the vice-chancellor; the deputy vice-chancellor (a position considerably enhanced); three assistant vice-chancellors (for academic programmes, research, and equity and human resources); the deans; and directors of finance and property, information services, and marketing. One casualty was the registrar, whose job disappeared: he left the university abruptly in April 1998.32 Holborow was to leave too, of his own volition, before the refocussing programme was completed (it was the end of his five-year term, but he chose not to seek a renewal of his contract). One regret was that he would not be there when the university celebrated its centennial in 1999. So Victoria approached its second century with a new vice-chancellor and chief executive, selected for the first time with the services of an executive recruitment agency: Michael Irving, an Australian professor of biochemistry, and pro-chancellor and director of the Gold Coast campus of Griffith University in Queensland. He would lead the university into its centennial year with a strategic plan that emphasised two of the prevailing themes of the 1990s: Victoria would seek to define itself as an élite institution, in academic terms, and in the international field, by offering the highest standards of graduate teaching and research.


Michael Irving, vice-chancellor and chief executive, 1998–

Michael Irving, vice-chancellor and chief executive, 1998–

page 378

Not everything in the university world in the 1990s was strange and new. One of the seemingly curious phenomena of this decade was the revival of graduation. Not of capping – of stunts and Extrav and procesh – but of student enthusiasm for the formal, public conferment of their degrees, which in the 1960s had become infra dig. Rapidly growing demand saw the institution of a December graduation ceremony in addition to the traditional April/May one in 1989. Almost 1100 graduands, 200 more than the previous year, had had their degrees conferred in May 1989, and many late applications had been declined. The supply of academic gowns and hoods became a problem. A second December ceremony was introduced in 1994, and the Maori graduation, an outdoor event, moved to the end of the year to take advantage of the weather. The main, mid-year graduation was also rescheduled this year to June, but only because the Michael Fowler Centre was unavailable at the usual time: it was booked out by Jesus Christ Superstar. In 1992 an academic procession (not to be confused with procesh) was inaugurated – the first Wellington had seen since a jubilee procession in 1949. It made its way from Lambton Quay to Civic Square led by the City of Wellington Pipe Band. 1995 saw an attempt to revive the graduation ball (the decline of dancing, however, was a continuing trend). This year too Victoria participated in a ‘procesh’ of a different kind, mounting a float in the city's Christmas parade. There was discussion, the next, about moving the main graduation ceremony back to the beginning of the academic year – to coincide with Orientation and the biennial International Festival of the Arts, making it all part of a ‘festival week’.

Students learn to dance in the old gymnasium, 1950s

Students learn to dance in the old gymnasium, 1950s

page 379

Wellington's International Festival of the Arts, founded in 1986, was the event above all which contributed to a flourishing of the arts in the city in the 1990s, especially of its drama. Stimulated by this and stimulating it in turn, student drama thrived too. The Summer Shakespeare moved down from the Quad to the city's ‘Summer City’ venue in the Botanic Garden in 1991, and to Civic Square – with an acclaimed As You Like It – in 1996. Orientation became part of the Arts Festival fringe season. Of the increasing ways in which the university involved itself with its city, among them its move physically downtown, the creative arts remained one of the most visible and valuable.

Wind-blown grads, 1995. Evening Post

Wind-blown grads, 1995. Evening Post

It was in the arts, too, that Victoria made its boldest statement in its centennial year, by establishing an art gallery. Long thought about, this was made possible by a $1 million gift in 1997 from Denis and Verna Adam – already benefactors of the Adam Concert Room, and soon of an Adam Prize for creative writing – to be matched by funds raised by the university. The target was almost achieved (most of it through the Foundation); the development went ahead anyway. The plan was not, as some at first feared, to remove the university art collection from all around the campus to permanent seclusion in the gallery (except for Gate III) although the safety of the collection was becoming a concern. In 1996 the most valuable works hanging in the Hunter and Robert Stout buildings were removed during the student occupation; and after a McCahon triptych was stolen by Maori protestors from the Urewera National Park visitor centre in 1997, Victoria moved its own big McCahon a few feet higher out of arm's reach. But it was not vandalism that posed the greatest threat: not long after it had been rehung, Gate III was defaced by pigeon droppings – it was not permanently damaged. Rather, the gallery was to host temporary, curated exhibitions from the university and other collections, and to have a teaching role, based in the newly independent Department of Art History. It began to take shape in the Kirk stairwell, which had found a raison d'être at last, in December 1998 – a classic expression of Victoria's habit of filling in the nooks and crannies of its site. An $80,000 shortfall in the funding would be met, it was announced (to some dismay) early in 1999, by the sale of one of the smaller McCahons from the university collection. Named the page 380 Adam Art Gallery Te Pataka Toi, it was to be opened in the main week of Victoria's centennial celebrations in September 1999.

Another announcement in May 1999, meanwhile, signalled a further development in the university's evolving relationship with the city, and in the reconfiguration of the wider tertiary field. The university purchased Rutherford House, downtown and across the road from the law school, for the faculty of commerce and administration. When this move is complete, in two or three years, some 40% of Victoria's students will be studying away from the ‘old clay patch’.

What Robert Stout would have thought of the idea that the university he had founded would one day have an art gallery can only be surmised. (It was not, as far as we know, part of his plan, although he did once entertain the thought of Victoria becoming the home of a national conservatorium of music – in a typically utilitarian scheme: the city had a town hall and an organist, ‘the organist would also be the professor of music, while the City would pay his salary’.)33 It can be observed, however, that Victoria has, at different times and in varying degrees, maintained its claims to distinction in the fields that Stout had anticipated it would: political science (and economics), history and law. It has shone in some others that were less obvious then: in the geological sciences, for example (despite James Hector's scepticism). But despite some notable achievements in the sciences, Victoria in its first century did not fulfil Jim Williams' postwar vision of a university of big science and technology. It has been more successful in fostering the arts.

The themes of utilitarianism and efficiency – the questions of what the university is for and what it can afford – have been perennial ones in Victoria's history, although they are not unique to this university. Rankine Brown asked in his inaugural lecture in 1899, ‘What is the real aim and object of education? Is it … the acquisition of certain useful knowledge which has a defined market value?’34 In a decade in which market value has become a mantra, the establishment of an art gallery is a clear affirmation that it is more than this. Without doubt, Victoria in its second century will continue to play out the historic and creative tension between the roles of a university as a ‘glorified nightschool’ and a ‘community of scholars’.