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Caucus formalised for Pacific academic staff

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 4:25pm

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Caucus members ... Front row (from left) Dr Daryl Schwenke, chairman Professor Rex Tauati Ahdar and Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga. Back row (from left) Dr Michelle Schaaf, Dr Ramona Tiatia, Nanai Anae Dr Iati Iati, Dr Alumita Durutalo and Dr Latika Samalia. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

An Otago Pacific Academic Staff Caucus, formally launched last night, plans to support teaching and research excellence, while staying in tune with Pacific Island peoples’ worldviews and aspirations.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says she is delighted the Caucus has been formalised: “It is a fantastic addition to our University and provides important support for our Pacific community both on and off campus.”

“The University is very conscious that we are a vital part of the wider Pacific. Our Strategic Directions to 2020 signal our commitment to the development of higher education in the Pacific and to the deployment of our expertise to help address issues facing the region.”

"Although our Pacific academic staff numbers are currently small, our aim is to grow more of our own in the future. This caucus brings us one step closer to that goal."

“I am delighted that the Pacific staff caucus is working closely with the Office of Pacific Development, the Pacific Islands Centre, Te Tumu (the School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies) and the Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit.”

“Although our Pacific academic staff numbers are currently small, our aim is to grow more of our own in the future. This caucus brings us one step closer to that goal.”

Caucus chairman Professor Rex Tauati Ahdar says the concept originated from a group of Pasefika lecturers deciding to “meet up at lunch-times for mutual fellowship” about three years ago.

Thereafter, the group decided to set goals and seek funding from the Vice-Chancellor so they could include Pasefika academics from the University’s other campuses in Otago Pacific Academic Staff Caucus (PASC) activities.

The Dunedin group looked to the Māori academic staff caucus Te Poutama Māori for a template because it has become “a well-oiled machine” since its creation some years ago, and holds workshops and conferences for members on various topics, including Māori research successes.

PASC aims to hold similar events to help Pasefika staff develop their careers.

It also wants to strengthen the University’s links with local Pasefika communities — which is one of the University’s stated aims — and to raise the profile of Pasefika academics, their research and teaching.

That will include developing a pool of Pasefika staff who can provide the media with prompt, expert comment on any public issues affecting Pasefika people.

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At the launch ... Callum Lynch-Hine on guitar and singer Eden Iati.

Pasefika academics also aim to give back to their local communities in New Zealand by holding public seminars and workshops about issues of interest to them.

The Caucus is open to all Pasefika academics and plans to identify Pasefika champions across all the University’s divisions and campuses.

The Caucus also aims to support research and foster career pathways for Pasefika postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows, while simultaneously encouraging Pasefika students in general to have a sense of social responsibility and effective citizenship.

Professor Ahdar says he is “pushing the Pacific barrow because I’m proud to be a Pacific lecturer — I’m half Samoan — I’m not wanting special favours.”

“It’s an opportunity to raise the profile of Pacific staff and students on the campus.”

And also off campus, political scientist Dr Iati Iati and Professor Ahdar gave the caucus’s first talk to the Samoan community in Dunedin recently, on the risks and challenges involved with the Samoan Constitution, introduced in 1960.

The formal launch of the Caucus was in the Staff Club last night.