Massey University Communications lecturer Steve Elers has called for the name of the institution to be changed.
This comes after Elers uncovered racist comments made by the university’s namesake, William Ferguson Massey, during his term as prime minister from 1912-1925.
The two statements in question read: “New Zealanders are… the purest Anglo-Saxon population in the British Empire. Nature intended New Zealand to be a white man’s country” and “I’m not a lover or admirer of the Chinese race. I… insist on very drastic legislation to prevent them coming here in any numbers.”
Palmerston North Massey University Student Association (MUSA) President Nikita Skipper says the reactions from students have been strong and varied.
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Some students argue that because the comments were made in the early 20th century they are of the time and not an issue today, while others said the statements made them “physically cringe” and that a name change is necessary.
Skipper has said these statements “clearly make some people uncomfortable” and that it “shouldn’t be swept under the carpet.”
Elers defended this view and stated that it is “irrelevant” that it happened “a long time ago” because “the past has an influence on today” and it is “important that it’s discussed.”
A number of academics at the university have chosen to take a neutral position on the issue—including Assistant Vice-Chancellor Māori and Pasifika Dr Selwyn Katene—but have stated the debate is an important one.
Reactions to the idea at Victoria University (VUW) are divided between students and staff as well.
The VUW head of history, Associate Professor Jim McAloon, said the good and the bad elements to Massey’s legacy should be remembered together and the name should not be changed.
Massey University spokesperson James Gardiner said the matter had not been raised formally with the university, and can not be properly considered until this has been done.