Thursday 2 December 2021 2:53pm
An historic day for wahine Māori leadership at the University of Otago.
Professor Suzanne Pitama (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whare) has been appointed the new Dean and Head of Campus of the University of Otago’s Christchurch campus.
The former Director of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI), and Associate Dean Māori, University of Otago, Christchurch becomes the first Māori female Dean of any Otago Medical School campus.
Professor Pitama states she was encouraged to apply for the position by her colleagues, and now sees the opportunity to continue to build on the strengths within the Christchurch campus.
“I’m feeling excited about the opportunities we have to move forward on some really key initiatives, which includes the implementation of a governance structure that aligns with Te Tiriti, preparing ourselves for the huge health reforms next year and ensuring our campus is well placed to address equity in our community.”
Professor Pitama’s appointment caps an impressive rise from her first appointment as Lecturer in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Christchurch in 2001.
She has actively participated in many service roles including as the Hauora Māori Faculty Lead in the Otago Medical School, which includes chairing the Hauora Māori sub-committee, The University of Otago, Christchurch Senior Leadership team, a co-Director of Te Poutama Rau (Māori andragogy research theme) and the working group for the new Mirror on Society policy for the University’s health professional courses.
She is also one of the Māori sub-editors on the New Zealand Medical Journal, was a special issue editor for The Clinical Teacher (on diversity and equity), and serves on two boards: The Health Council of New Zealand, and the Australian Medical Council of which she chairs the Indigenous committees within each organisation.
Professor Pitama won the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Joan Metge Medal in 2018, and the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence in 2015.
Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Nicholson says Professor Pitama has demonstrated excellent leadership in the University and wider community.
“She has a clear vision for the University of Otago, Christchurch and is very well respected throughout the University of Otago Christchurch, and the wider University,” she says.
“Professor Pitama has already inspired numerous up and coming Māori female academics and this a really significant appointment in terms of providing a strong role model for the wahine of the future.”
The importance of succession is something Professor Pitama is already aware of. A proud Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāti Whare wahine, she says many Māori leaders have paved the way before her within the University of Otago.
“When I think of our earliest graduates like Te Rangihiroa, the first Māori Dean of a Medical School, Professor Eru Pomare, the work in te reo Māori from Professor Poia Rewi, and mana wahine leadership like Professor Jacinta Ruru, I realise the mahi they put in, and the work laid before me now to build on their legacies.”
Professor Pitama assumes the role from Professor David Murdoch, who was announced as the University’s new Vice-Chancellor earlier this year.
She paid tribute to Professor Murdoch, who like Professor Pitama will begin his new role in February.
“Professor David Murdoch has been an amazing leader here at the University of Otago, with a real committment to Hauora Māori and equity. His leadership style is both to lead by example, and to coach and provide support from the sidelines.
“His recent support of our mobile vaccination team in partnership with mana whenua demonstrated his committment to social justice and accountability.”
It is with the same values of social justice and social accountability that Professor Pitama hopes to embrace her new leadership opportunity.