University Serving Maori Students Comes Under Attack

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Feb 24 14:58:47 UTC 2005

Thursday, February 24, 2005

University Serving Maori Students Comes Under Attack in New Zealand's


Wellington, New Zealand

The president of New Zealand's largest postsecondary institution defended
it this week against politicians who have accused it of widespread
corruption and financial irregularities. Te Wananga o Aotearoa, whose name
translates as "the University of New Zealand," was already the subject of
a routine government inquiry into its 10-campus operation, which enrolls
the equivalent of some 34,000 full-time students. Aotearoa, whose programs
are tailored to the country's indigenous Maori people, receives the
second-largest amount of public financing among colleges in New Zealand.

About two-thirds of Aotearoa's students identify themselves as Maori, and
a significant portion say they are "second-chance learners" -- younger New
Zealanders whose experience in mainstream schools has not gone smoothly.
The institution, which bills itself as a global model for indigenous
higher education and maintains academic links with a number of similar
colleges in North America, also offers a variety of programs to immigrants
(The Chronicle, July 25, 2003). This past week, however, the official
inquiry into Aotearoa's academic caliber and use of the word "university"
in its name became mired in scandal after a number of politicians used
their "parliamentary privilege"  to air more-controversial accusations
about the institution. Under that privilege, a standard protection in
British Commonwealth countries like this one, members of Parliament may
allege wrongdoing without the fear that they will be slapped with
defamation lawsuits.

In addition to accusations of extravagance and wasteful spending, the
critics raised a raft of questions suggesting that the university was home
to nepotism and fraudulent accounting. One member of Parliament said
Aotearoa had forked over a seven-figure sum for a discredited Cuban
literacy program administered by the president's American fiance. Aotearoa
"is out of control," Kenneth Shirley, the member who first aired the
allegations, said in an interview with The Chronicle. The institution was
saddled with "appalling governance, bad employment relationships,
fictitious schemes, and many courses of a rubbishy standard," said Mr.

Rongo H. Wetere, Aotearoa's president, turned down repeated requests for
an interview. But in a written statement released on Wednesday, Mr. Wetere
described the accusations as either misleading or incorrect. (The full
text of the statement is available on the institution's Web site; it can
be viewed using Adobe Reader, available free.) The institution has said it
will appoint new auditors to look at its dealings.

Mr. Shirley said the current inquiry should be handed over to a High Court
judge, who would have the power to call witnesses and demand a more
thorough accounting of Aotearoa's public finances, which ran to nearly 250
million New Zealand dollars, or $180-million, in the last fiscal year. The
country's auditor general was expected to make a decision shortly on
whether to widen the current inquiry.

Copyright  2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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