A racially-charged debate is igniting over research that has revealed “white supremacist” comments made by the prime minister Massey University is named after.
Now, almost a century on, a top academic is calling for the university to consider a name change.
The controversial call comes from Massey lecturer and recent PhD scholar Steve Elers, who was startled to uncover blatantly racist comments made by William Ferguson Massey.
A farmer and entrepreneur, Massey was prime minister of New Zealand between 1912 and his death in 1925. The then Massey Agricultural College was founded in 1926 and named after him.
Elers of Ngati Kauwhata, said he was surprised to discover Massey’s beliefs, during his research into Maori representation in newspapers.
He presented the findings at a talk on the Manawatu campus on Wednesday, challenging the institution to consider the symbolism of using Massey’s name.
Some of Massey’s quotes presented included: “New Zealanders are probably the purest Anglo-Saxon population in the British Empire. Nature intended New Zealand to be a white man’s country, and it must be kept as such”; and, “I am not a lover or admirer of the Chinese race. I should be one of the very first to insist on very drastic legislation to prevent them coming here in any numbers, and I am glad such is not the case.”
During Massey’s lifetime many people freely expressed views considered unacceptable today, Elers said. However, any justification that his comments were made “a long time ago” and in another context was “irrelevant”.
Context is everything. Judging people off their beliefs 100 years ago will find 99.9% of the population unworthy. It’s ridiculous.
In 100 years no doubt someone like Elers will demand that a university named after Barack Obama be renamed because Obama started his presidency opposed to same sex marriage.
Victoria University head of history, associate professor Jim McAloon, said there should be a “fairly high threshold” for an institutional name change, but the good and bad should be remembered together.
“If we only memorialise the perfect we’re not going to have anyone to memorialise.
Rather, let us debate the lives and legacies of those who are memorialised and ensure that memorials represent the breadth of our history.”
Much more sensible.
Queen Victoria no doubt had some terrible views in the 1800s by today’s standards. We must rename VUW also! And I am sure Lord Auckland and the Duke of Wellington said some awful things – so let’s rename these cities too.