Race Politics in the University and the Effects on Knowledge

Presentation to the Bio-Engineering Institute

By Associate Professor Elizabeth Rata

Race Politics in the University and the Effects on Knowledge

This afternoon I ask three questions about race and the university. They are: Has a racial ideology become included in the university’s structures and operations? If so, how did it happen? What are the consequences for knowledge creation and research ethics?

The fact that I can ask them is guaranteed by two clauses in the Education Amendment Act 1989. Section 162 (4)(a)(v), commonly known as the ‘critic and conscience role’ and section 161(2)(a) – the academic freedom clause: “The freedom of academic staff and students, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial and unpopular opinions” (section 161(2)(a).

That such democratic ideals are in our legislation is something of which all New Zealanders can be justly proud. It is truly democracy in action. Imagine Gallileo or Spinoza or even Darwin in more recent times having such protection?

The relationship of knowledge to power is a constant tension in a democracy. It takes two forms. There is ‘powerful knowledge’ which seeks to explain the world using a discipline’s generative principles and concepts and is authorised by the discipline’s rules and procedures.

There is also the ‘knowledge of the powerful’ – ideologies that promote the beliefs and interests of various elite groups. The authority for this form of knowledge is the power of the group to control what is to be believed.

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