top of page

Why Isn’t My Professor Māori?

Maori lady with moko

Sitting on the wharepaku (toilet) at the university library (where all the best thinking happens), I was met with a poster on the back of the door. The words “Tāngata tū, Tāngata ora | People prepared to make a difference” were emblazoned across it. As a Māori student, this piqued my interest, and I began to read further.

It turns out that this is the name of my University’s Strategic Vision for 2020-2030. It’s Māori, it’s catchy and I desperately wanted to buy into it. But I couldn’t.

Which brings me to the article, “Why isn’t my professor Māori?” (McAllister, 2019). This study looked at the ethnicities of academics across eight universities here in Aotearoa and found that Māori were underrepresented at only 5% for the 2012-2017 time period. There is also an article entitled, “Why isn’t my professor Pasifika?” with rates for Pasifika academics being much lower at 1.7% in 2017 (Naepi, 2019a).

The reason I found this article helpful is that it directly reflected my own experiences as a Māori woman, Māori student and Māori researcher. Although it was extremely saddening, it was a relief to have a journal article that outlined the phenomenon I was experiencing and had statistics to back it up.

Universities are meant to be our treaty partners but unfortunately myself and many other Māori don’t feel a sense of true partnership within our tertiary institutions. In my taught papers, my professors were pākehā or tauiwi, who spoke vaguely about culture and maybe touched on Te Whare Tapa Wha. As a postgraduate research student, it has been a significant struggle to secure adequate cultural supervision. Many Māori academics are stretched to capacity between their own mahi, supervising students and the extra cultural labour that they often take on in their roles. This can prevent students like myself conducting culturally relevant research and limits the skills we are able to develop. Our employment opportunities are adversely affected and this places a chokehold on us becoming the future academics we so desperately need.

The other pill I find hard to swallow is the fact that universities receive double the amount of funding from the Performance Based Research Fund when a Māori or Pasifika person completes a postgraduate degree (compared with other ethnicities) as an incentive to support these student completions (Naepi, 2019b). “What’s wrong with that?” I hear you ask.

Well – there is hardly any information available to the public about how this money is spent and in 2016 universities received $72.61 million for this reason. If I felt like I could see where that money was going, if I felt the incentive translated into something that supported and affirmed me to succeed as Māori within the university then I would say there is nothing wrong with that. But I don’t.

This is why I can’t buy into a strategic vision which uses my language to promote the University while the main campus has all these flash buildings for Engineering and Education and the Student’s Association but Te Whare Ākonga o Te Akatoki is falling apart. It is a metaphor for the state of our Treaty Partnership. It’s hard enough being an indigenous person within a colonial institution like a university without having to fight tooth and nail for the very support that institution is meant to be providing you.


McAllister, T. G. (2019). Why isn't my professor māori? A snapshot of the academic workforce in new zealand universities. MAI Journal (Online), 8(2), 235-249.

Naepi, S. (2019a). Why isn't my professor pasifika? A snapshot of the academic workforce in new zealand universities. MAI Journal (Online), 8(2), 219-234.

Naepi, S. (2019b). The pakaru ‘pipeline’ : Māori and pasifika pathways within the academy. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 24, 142-159.

Written By

Cheyenne Scown



bottom of page