New Zealand appoints first university leader of Pacific heritage

Pacific expert’s selection coincides with policy push to boost islander participation in higher education

十一月 15, 2021
Damon Salesa Auckland University of Technology

New Zealand higher education has achieved a diversity milestone with the appointment of its first vice-chancellor with Pacific Islands heritage.

Samoan-New Zealand academic Damon Salesa, a prizewinning historian and the first Rhodes Scholar of Pacific Islands descent, has been chosen to run Auckland University of Technology (AUT) after long-serving incumbent Derek McCormack retires in March.

The appointment puts Dr Salesa at the helm of the country’s newest and fastest rising university. AUT cracked the top 250 in this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings after debuting in the top 800 in 2016.

His ascension coincides with a policy focus to improve Pacific people’s participation in higher education through the 10-year Action Plan for Pacific Education and a move to increase competitive funding of research by and about Pacific Islanders, among other measures.

Dr Salesa is currently pro vice-chancellor (Pacific) at the University of Auckland. He previously co-headed Auckland’s School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies and directed the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Programme at the University of Michigan.

He completed his doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and has authored books including Racial Crossings, which won the international Ernest Scott Prize in 2012, and Island Time: New Zealand’s Pacific Futures in 2017. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and serves on its council.

New Zealand’s minister for Pacific peoples, Aupito William Sio, congratulated Dr Salesa and AUT for “enabling” the country’s first vice-chancellor of Pacific heritage. “It feels like a new dawn,” he tweeted.

Dr Salesa, an Aucklander by birth and the son of a Samoan factory worker, described AUT as a “pace-setter” in New Zealand’s social, educational and economic transformation. “[It] has been the most remarkable story in Aotearoa New Zealand tertiary education, showing how the pursuit of excellence can be set on a foundation of service, inclusion and close relationships with our communities, businesses and stakeholders,” he said.

AUT said the appointment had followed a global search for a new leader. Chancellor Rob Campbell said that the university council had been “impressed by Damon’s vision of the critical contribution AUT can make to Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific through quality research and teaching, and the role of Te Tiriti o Waitangi [Treaty of Waitangi] throughout the work of the university”.



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