Hipkins gets it right on VUW

Education Minister Chris Hipkins made the right decision to reject the Victoria University of Wellington’s Council request to change its name to the University of Wellington.

The VUW Council put out a very sensible statement in response saying it would consider the issue at its first meeting next year.   But the Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford was not reticent when approached by the media, saying they had several options including a judicial review and also just changing the operational name while leaving the statutory name intact.   This maybe technically possible but would likely set off political and or legal action seeking to block that course.

The Council itself should reflect seriously on how it got into this very unfortunate situation.   My take is that:

Firstly it did not develop a quality case first and then present it to staff, students and alumni for genuine feedback.

Instead it made a provisional decision and then attempted to sell it to relevant stakeholders as both worthy and inevitable.  When that produced a largely hostile reaction from far too many for comfort, it released a 50 page paper on July 27 giving people a couple of weeks to comment.   When the voices against further increased it extended the deadline.

Reading the September Council paper it is clear their lawyers got heavily involved and the result was a a very carefully written paper designed to head off a Minister who might not be convinced.  It did not work and congratulations to Chris Hipkins for rejecting it.

Those Council members (all but two) who voted in favour should now back up the truck and make some rational decisions.  They should accept the case for change was weak with modest upsides, and a lot of downside, particularly with students and alumni.   It seems academic staff, who were not properly surveyed by VUW, are divided with possibly a majority being opposed to the name change.

To the extent there is confusion problem with some potential overseas students or staff, this can be dealt with by clever marketing.  Something simple like making the full name – Victoria University of Wellington – in the same sized type instead of Victoria being much larger.

This whole saga is to me part of a larger problem with many boards of directors.   Too many accept management proposals (supported of course by consultants commissioned by management) to undertake investments or changes of direction, which often don’t stack up.   For example Fletcher Building buying Formica in the USA when it didn’t have a comparative advantage.   Now being sold.   Tranzrail moving its head office to Auckland’s North Shore where there are no trains and when its main operational base was well south.  That suited some individuals but not the company.

Directors are there for real independent judgement, not to tick the boxes on management’s proposals.  Its now time for the VUW Council to step up, accept the rejection from Hipkins and thousands of other stakeholders, restrain the VC, and move on.   With good management the University has a great future.

In respect of overseas students it is handicapped by the lack of direct flights from Asia and the cost of living for students.   It can do something about the latter and its attention should be on that and all the normal stuff that makes for a great university.




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