Peace and Conflict Centre Begins Improvements

Peace and Conflict Centre Begins Improvements

Scathing review leads Uni to commit to “fundamental reset”

A review into the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has found an “unsustainably toxic” workplace culture despite “excellent” teaching staff and “enthusiastic” students. The University of Otago has committed to a “fundamental reset” in response, aiming “to build a truly top-flight and bicultural centre”. 

The review was first leaked to the Otago Daily Times. It found that over the course of a decade, the Centre developed a “toxic and unproductive culture” that led to “staff and students barely able to function, communicate or cooperate on small issues”. There was also mistrust between the Centre and the wider Uni, with the reviewers highlighting “much more support and unity around the values of the Centre… than [they] seem to understand.”

Despite the challenging workplace environment, the review found “signal highlights” in the teaching programme, and widespread praise from students for “the dedication and quality of dissertation supervisors… and the staff”. A student told Critic Te Arohi that “from my experience just beginning the course, I haven’t noticed a negative environment within the Centre”. The reviewers found this high performance all the more remarkable while staff were “carrying a heavy burden of hurt, grievance and distrust”.

A “fundamental reset” was called for, with a process of “reconciliation” and “team-building” to “address their workplace culture” top of the priority list. Other recommendations included “[accommodating] a significant focus on indigenous/bicultural practice and research” (including a Māori director who “implicitly understands tikanga Māori”), a review of the Centre’s curriculum, and greater integration with the wider Uni. 

The review ended on an upbeat note, concluding that with “high research output, high quality teaching and [valuable engagement] with the wider community, there was “an amazing opportunity… to build a truly top-flight and bicultural centre”. While acknowledging the changes would be “extraordinarily difficult”, the report said that if these changes were “carried out well, it can result in… a healthy and happy professional work environment, alongside development of a Treaty-led truly bicultural [Centre] with astonishing capacity and global profile”.

Responding to the report, Division of Humanities Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Jessica Palmer told Critic Te Arohi that the Uni were “previously aware of some of the issues highlighted… and were already working through [them] with Centre staff”. She committed to accepting all the report’s recommendations, saying they were “both timely and helpful,” and said an interim director is being hired to implement these changes.

The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Student Association said in a statement that “[students’] views were taken seriously and are reflected in the recommendations. We think that the Review has painted a pathway forward, which we are supporting, and are also pleased to hear that the University has accepted the recommendations in full… We feel fortunate that the relationship [we] currently have with the Centre will enable us to continue to contribute towards the implementation of the Review’s recommendations.”

This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2022.
Posted 1:53pm Sunday 6th March 2022 by Denzel Chung.