Rebranding strikes academia
In a radical break from the knitting pattern that Middle C usually follows, I am driven to raise my voice to protest about the planned rebranding of my alma-mater, Victoria University of Wellington, or simply ‘Vic’ as it has always been universally known. Music in Wellington has its most important educational institution in Victoria University.
This ‘review’ is prompted by the publication of Dave Armstrong’s column in this morning’s Dominion Post drawing attention to the announcement by the Vice Chancellor that the obscene word ‘Victoria’ would be dropped from the name.
In May I became aware of the proposal and wrote to the Vice Chancellor. This is the essence of my letter, slightly modified:
The propensity to change long-standing names has always seemed to have been a characteristic of authoritarian regimes, most conspicuously used by Communist states.
I happen to be a graduate of the university (actually, a pre-1961 graduate of the University of New Zealand). For me, the habit of changing a name other than for an overwhelmingly important reason, has always struck me as a mark of an immature institution, and in particular, one that places greater importance on what might be called ‘political correctness’ or fashion than on tradition, constancy; even integrity.
I am not the least persuaded that there is any merit in the argument that its name is a matter of confusion. Ours in the Victoria University of Wellington; surely that is clear enough: after all this is the capital city.
Two other universities (and I imagine there may well be others) that use the name Victoria, are mentioned; both geographically related. They are perfectly justified, but they too are likely to be subject of confusion by people who take no trouble to identify them. What are they doing?
I suspect that a secondary, unstated reason is the lingering imperialist flavour associated with the name; it may also reflect a pro-republican spirit. I too am in favour of a republican constitution, but it has nothing to do with the anti-Victorian temper that arose in the early decades of last century!
Many universities carry names associated with a founder or a political leader whose reputation, by standards of today, might be dubious. But those universities will have achieved a reputation that obliterates the shortcomings of that individual. My university should likewise be mature and self-respecting enough to withstand such adolescent, ephemeral pressures.
I plead that you take a more academically and politically mature view of this matter, and retain the name which already has more than a century of history behind it.
I had a very courteous and friendly reply from the Vice Chancellor and an update in the last few days about the council’s decision, to press ahead with the change.
He followed up last Friday with a circular letter announcing that: “The University Council today approved in principle a change to ‘University of Wellington’ along with the adoption of a new Māori name of Te Herenga Waka.”
And the letter added that “This is a draft decision and Council will consider further feedback over the next two weeks. This can be emailed to ‘email@example.com’ or posted to ‘The Chancellor, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140’. Feedback closes at 5:00pm Monday 13 August 2018.”
And there’s a petition: https://www.change.org/p/victoria-university-of-wellington-victoria-university-of-wellington-to-abandon-their-name-change-proposal. And in its report on the issue, Stuff has an article on the subject: https://www.change.org/p/victoria-university-of-wellington-victoria-university-of-wellington-to-abandon-their-name-change-proposal?recruiter=146541735&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition
Armstrong mentions several other reasons to oppose this senseless move.
They include reference to the university’s not irrelevant behaviour over the Karori campus, the former Wellington Teachers’ College, which should have been held for educational purposes, sold for $28 million to Ryman!!
For me, a curious weakness in the case is the list of other universities (or tertiary institutions) around the world that enjoy the word ‘Victoria’. There are nine. Are any of them embarrassed at having the offensive word attached to them, and planning to change their name, and if not why not? And why, as the one that may well be the oldest and most distinguished, is our Victoria University so lacking in self-confidence, a sense of its own reputation and traditions?
I think it is disgraceful.