A force for justice

Editorial, From the Vice-Chancellor — By on October 20, 2017 12:52 pm

At a time when countless millions of people have been displaced by conflict, and intolerance appears to be increasing, research universities such as ours have an important role to play in promoting informed debate, encouraging diversity, breaking down prejudice, and developing citizens and future leaders who are tolerant and have broad interests in and understanding of others.

Two characteristics of universities, research-informed teaching and our role as a critic and conscience of society, are in New Zealand enshrined in legislation – something that is not common elsewhere. This means that informed analysis and debate can be – and must be – one of our key contributions to international understanding.

The “fear of the other” is being used now, as it has been in other turbulent times, to encourage people to take sides in a contest for power, control and influence. The antidote to this fear, and a powerful element in attaining peace and advancing human rights and international justice, is to understand that other groups of humans are much like us, and that many of the problem and challenges facing us are shared.

This is the kind of understanding that a university like ours can and does create. Our high proportion of international students and staff, with over 120 nations represented on campus, and the experience of diversity that we consequently offer our community, contribute to that understanding. So too, our active membership of international consortia such as the Worldwide Universities Network and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, and our encouragement of transnational exchanges and research collaborations, many of which address the most challenging global problems of our time, mean we are well positioned to promote international understanding and tolerance.

In this issue of Ingenio, two of our alumni profiles feature people who are actively involved in promoting peace: one is Grant Bayldon, the New Zealand director of Amnesty International; the other is Esther Harrop, a senior New Zealand Defence Force officer who has been serving with the peace-keeping forces in South Sudan.

Also appearing in this issue is an opinion piece by a staff member, Dr Ritesh Shah from the Faculty of Education and Social Work, whose research is concerned with the part played by education in preventing (or exacerbating) conflict or restoring peace.

Recently the University has launched a new Master of Conflict and Terrorism degree led by Dr Chris Wilson from Politics and International Relations. The programme is very interdisciplinary, with courses from Politics, Criminology, History and Media Studies, among other disciplines. Still in its first year, it is receiving substantial student interest, particularly from overseas.

As a nation distant from the world’s major centres, New Zealand has a long tradition of being outward-facing. We travel frequently, a high proportion of us were born overseas, and we have strong ties all over the world through our diverse population and our trading links with Europe, Asia, the Pacific, the Americas and the Middle East. As New Zealand’s highest-ranked university, we are well-placed to foster acceptance and tolerance of other ways of life and to help work towards a better and fairer world, contributing to solutions for global problems and reducing the inequalities that often lie at the heart of conflict.

The University of Auckland



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