I write this just a few days after the tragic March 15 massacres in Christchurch that rocked our nation and shocked the world.
As I said in a message to staff that I sent out two days later, on a Sunday, I felt distracted, sad and angry all at the same time. I was not alone.
We have many connections with Canterbury, including more than 600 students and staff based there along with more than 4000 alumni. Additionally, many hundreds of internal students at all campuses call Christchurch or Canterbury home.
Our first thoughts were for them, to establish that people were safe, and the outrage and despair we all felt as details of the events unfolded were tempered slightly, but only slightly, when we learned that none were among the dead or injured. Our friends at Lincoln and the University of Canterbury did have students injured and, in at least one case, killed. At the time of writing details were not official.
We followed police advice and shut down the Islamic prayer spaces on all campuses, which naturally caused some concern at a time when Muslim students were desperately in need of those spaces.
We also decided to postpone the Defining Excellence Awards from March 20 to July 31. No one could really countenance the prospect of gathering to celebrate the achievements of alumni and staff just five days after the horror that was still being played out in wall-to-wall news media coverage.
In the editorial I wrote before the shootings, I noted that while the University is woven into the fabric of New Zealand’s economy and culture, it is also a conduit to the wider world.
After the Christchurch attacks, these words take on a new light.
While the University is a launchpad to the wider world, we must also process and respond to, and prepare for, unwelcome developments from the wider world. As we have done in the past, Massey will continue to ask and help develop answers to tough questions.
In this issue, we feature several alumni who began their careers with Massey qualifications, and who are now visible on the world stage. Craig Walker, now in New York, sat down at a kitchen table with Rod Drury a few years ago to nut out the internationally successful accounting software company Xero. The wonderfully understated Professor Rosemary Horne, based at Melbourne’s Monash University, is a world leader on sudden infant death syndrome whose research has helped save lives around the world. Dr Jim Young started out as a veterinarian in Waikato but now works throughout Asia to improve food safety and food security. Captain Preston Wilson is literally flying high – for British Airways working out of London Gatwick.
Some alumni stay local and make their contributions from here. Dr Bridget Burmester is breaking new ground in understanding age-related memory issues. Shihad frontman Jon Toogood worked with musicians at the School of Music and Creative Media Production to produce a new album that combines up-and-coming local talent with the sounds of northern Sudan.
In this issue, we celebrate the outstanding career of Massey’s first head of the School of Māori Studies Te Pūtahi-a-Toi, Professor Emeritus Sir Mason Durie, who received an honorary doctorate days before his 80th birthday at the end of last year. He had just finished a busy year as a panel member of the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry.
Massey’s international students, too, are using the skills gained here in life-changing ways. Kisione Manu has graduated twice from Massey as he continues his quest to improve teaching and learning in Tonga.
I remain confident that Massey University will continue as a safe place for students and alumni to learn and grow, and that the work we do will remain as relevant as ever in contributing innovative solutions to the issues New Zealand and the world faces.
Professor Jan Thomas