Category Archives: Staff stories

“I want them to question everything” – Arts Lecturer of the Year

Mike Grimshaw  – College of Arts Lecturer of the Year (UCSA Staff of the Year Awards)







When Mike Grimshaw came to UC in 2000 as a Lecturer in Religious Studies, it’s doubtful he saw himself 15 years in the future winning the Arts Lecturer of the Year Award as a teacher of sociology of the city, sociology of religion and the politics of need.

Students grant these Awards to teachers who have made a real impact on them, and one of Mike’s major impacts must be inspiring genuine critical thought in them.

“I want them to question, and to think, and to apply what we discuss in all areas of their lives,” he says.

“I don’t want regurgitation, I want interpretation. I want them to think for themselves, question everything – including me, and not only develop a strong critical argument, but be prepared to stake a position.“

Not a great believer in exams, Mike prefers to set written assignments and allows his students to pick their own topics in discussion with him.

“When students are researching and writing about something they’re interested in, they do much better work, and I try to excite them with my own interest in their topics and its possibilities.”

He finds the same thing in his class discussions. Although there may be a topic and a set of lecture notes, ultimately, where the lecture goes, is up to the interaction between Mike and the class.

For Mike, stand out teaching moments are the students who never thought they would necessarily be interested in a topic, but who suddenly have their interest awakened.

Über Lecturer of the Year

AlessandroTo his students, it was no surprise that Alessandro Palermo took the Grand Award on top of two others at the recent Staff of the Year Awards.

His “Learn and Laugh” motto may have a lot to do with his popularity, and the fact that his Design Studio 1 course involves a real case bridge study that culminates in the annual bridge-building competition we all know so well.

Behind that though, is his absolute commitment to strong teacher-student interactions and using  tutorials to build face-to-face relationships with his students to ensure they remain team focused, a value he learned as a consultant and knows is one of the most important skills they can learn.

He motivates his bridge-builders by emulating the CEO of a real-world company who will be fired if they fail, and further enriches the teaching environment through design competitions and awards that involve industry partners.

When asked what he loves most about teaching he replied, “I love being surrounded by students, and their vitality and naïve enthusiasm triggers my motivation to challenge them beyond their limits.”

“We are educators more than teachers. It’s not just delivering a good lecture package and a comprehensive set of notes that makes you effective. Students feel what we feel, and I believe our passion triggers their will to succeed.”

“I love teaching at the University because this word is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium – meaning community of teachers and scholars. I am proud to be in this role and serve our community for a better future.”

Small wonder Alessandro came in a grand winner – and we salute his well deserved victory!

Living well with elephants

Re-thinking Human-Elephant Relations
Re-thinking Human-Elephant Relations

Elephants aren’t necessarily the first group you’d expect an anthropologist to study, but that hasn’t stopped Dr Piers Locke from spending many years researching how humans and elephants can better co-exist.

In 2013, this led him to propose a new field for human-elephant studies called “ethnoelaphantology” that would recognise elephants as conscious actors in this dynamic interaction, rather than as cultural symbols or inanimate objects.

At a two day Symposium, Dr Locke presented his proposal to expert anthropologists, geographers, historians and biologists, who together considered the complex ways in which human and elephant lives and landscapes are interwoven. View some of these intriguing interactions here.

One result of that Symposium is a book, “Rethinking Human-Elephant Relations” edited by Dr Locke and Jane Buckingham. It contains a wealth of collaborative and interdisciplinary research that challenges common assumptions about the role of these animals in our histories, societies and environments.

Some of the fascinating topics included in the book are:

  • Origins of the war elephant
  • The Elephant Reserves of ancient kings
  • Expert elephant lore from Sanskrit texts
  • Elephants in colonial science
  • Elephants and their mahouts
  • Human-elephant conflicts
  • De-extinction of mammoths

Read more here

The book is published by Oxford Press and can help you to obtain a copy.

UPDATE: Dr Piers Locke’s article in the Spring 2017 edition of the HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory explores the overlap between ethnography and ethology. It challenges the longstanding assumption of Western intellectual thought that personhood is exclusive to humans. Read it here>

Racism vs irrational faith in our own goodness

University of Canterbury lecturer Garrick Cooper of Aotahi: School of Maori and Indigenous Studies responds to the recent claims of Don Brash, and racism versus class bias in the New Zealand justice system.


 Politicians make statements they do not have to back up. I am not talking of Trump-esque politicians, but affable politicians like John Key, who recently said “violence is unacceptable anywhere”. His claim is incorrect. Violence is accepted under certain conditions; the obvious example being war. One might say that contextualised Key wasn’t talking about violence “anywhere” but specifically violence perpetrated in our local communities. We could also say that even in war violence is unacceptable, but it is a necessary evil, therefore is not really an evil. We have ways of rationalising away the otherwise morally unacceptable. Caveats and qualifiers make the unpalatable palatable.

Academics and experts are not immune to similar types of claims. However we can challenge what academics assert and question their reasoning and the evidential basis of their claims. While our judicial system was being questioned in the media recently about the possibility of a racial bias, socially progressive academics came out strongly in its defence. Perhaps not quite as unequivocal as Key, they nevertheless dismissed claims that the justice system is racially biased, and that was followed with an unequivocal claim there is definitely a class bias.

Two things stand out. Firstly, social scientists cannot dismiss outright the claim that the justice system is racially biased. Politicians can, and do; social scientists cannot. They cannot because there simply are no systematic studies in this country that address the question. They could say that we have no evidence to prove it doesn’t exist. That there is no such study is telling in itself.

Secondly, there appears to be a significant investment in maintaining the line that a racial bias does not exist. Why is there such a uniform, consistent, and one without an evidential basis, narrative from mostly white, experts? You get a similar response from socially progressive academics in education, which has also received attention in the news this week. They will say there is no racial bias in the education system, but there is a class bias. If you push them they might say we don’t have evidence that racism does not exist. This is actually the point. There are constant claims of no racial bias but no evidence to support their assertions.

But class doesn’t explain higher Māori apprehension rates. Nor higher Māori charge, conviction and imprisonment rates. These consistent statistics cannot be explained away by invoking class alone. To ignore racism is to demonstrate an historical amnesia, and a blindness to the ongoing legacies of colonialism, the premise of which is white racial superiority; that is, racism.

Māori children learn from a young age that they are watched in shops because they are Māori; not because they may not have rich parents. My physically imposing son, blessed with more melanin than most, has repeatedly been stopped by police while legally driving his car. This is not an anomaly. Class doesn’t have explanatory power, as the social scientists like to say, for these experiences. It can’t.

Jarrod Gilbert was more measured. Despite Don Brash’s claim that Gilbert argued there was no racial bias, in fact Gilbert pointed out that the IPCA report wasn’t evidence of racism, not that racism did not exist. However in arguing for a maintained focus on poverty and addressing the conditions in which crime flourishes – one that I do not necessarily disagree with – Gilbert ignores the very real possibility that accumulatively the data, reviews and audits at the very least suggest that Māori are being over policed and criminalised. Reducing poverty will not solve Māori criminalisation.

Why is there such an investment in denying the existence of racism? Why does it have to be mutually exclusive, why can it not be both class and race?

Are we really being asked to believe that New Zealand is immune to a social disease that infects most other western societies? Have we figured out what all these other countries cannot? I know that is the story we like to tell ourselves about our so-called ‘harmonious race relations’. However just because we don’t have anywhere near the same level of tragic deaths at the hands of our police like the United States, this is not evidence that racism doesn’t exist here.

Let me suggest the reason that no research has been commissioned into systemic racism and why there is such an investment in the ‘harmonious race relations’ line, is because we have an unencumbered faith in our own goodness, and no amount of statistics or, dare I say, reality, is going to derail that.

University of Canterbury academic Garrick Cooper, (Ngāti Karaua, Te Pirirākau), is a lecturer in the University of Canterbury’s Aotahi: School of Maori and Indigenous Studies


Research: NZ school rugby teaching lacks character, values

New research from the University of Canterbury reveals that rugby in New Zealand secondary schools has no clear educative or social intention, focusing on building technical skills rather than developing character, social skills or resilience.

University of Canterbury (UC) researcher Dr Blake Bennett’s original doctoral study investigated both New Zealand and Japanese secondary-school rugby environments to examine the influences and intentions of their coaching.

Interviews with secondary-school-level rugby coaches has revealed that the long-established objective of using rugby as a vehicle for character development was not at the forefront of the New Zealand coaches’ minds, according to Dr Bennett.

“With New Zealand coaches, their focus appeared to be placed on skill development and discipline with no overt mention of the types of social and cultural learning that, historically, has been used to justify rugby as a sport offered in secondary schools,” he says.

“In contrast, the Japanese coaches suggested that character development, tenacity, and a range of social benefits were the primary focus of their coaching approaches.”

Dr Bennet says his research poses the question: what is rugby’s relevance in secondary school/schoolboy development, if it does not target a learning outcomes beyond a physical level?

“The potential for participation in such sports could offer more social and cultural development of New Zealand’s young males,” Dr Bennett says.

“For instance, learning could focus more on leadership, cultural awareness, social interaction, coping skills under pressure and in the face of defeat, and so on. However, without explicit mention of these potential learning outcomes, the literature strongly suggests that such learning will not be naturally transferred to players. Instead, the notion of sport participation becomes limited to technical ability.”

Dr Bennett, guided by Professor Ian Culpan and Associate Professor Jeanne Kentel, of UC’s College of Education, Health and Human Development, recently earned his PhD at the University of Canterbury with this research.

With consideration to the high profile of rugby in New Zealand, and the growing esteem and status of rugby in Japan, Bennett says that it was also important to investigate the historical and sociocultural (social) influences acting on rugby coaches in secondary school coaches and players.

“I was keen to uncover the types of learning that rugby coaches of this age level intended that their athletes will gain from the rugby experience.”

Dr Bennett speaks, reads and writes in Japanese and conducted all the interviews in Japan and New Zealand himself.

About the research:

Analysis of data from both Japan and New Zealand secondary school rugby coaches revealed several interesting findings in his comparative study of coaching pedagogy in Japanese and New Zealand high school rugby, according to Dr Bennett.

Japanese coaches emphasised what they termed “seishin” – an ideology that stresses holistic education and the cultivation of the mind through harsh physical practices – as a principal philosophy underpinning their coaching approaches. In an extracurricular setting that often requires players to attend training up to six or seven days per week, it was suggested that this seishin ideology was a way in which to encourage a vigorousness, positive attitudes towards hard work, and overall vitality in the young men in their squad. They suggested that, ultimately, the rugby experience at secondary school age would fulfil the objective of ningen keisei – or character development – that would in turn lead to socially balanced and tenacious young men, ready to contribute to society.

Conversely, the New Zealand data revealed a strong focus on developing correct technique and skills. To this end, many coaches attempted to maintain control of their sessions, and few were willing to break away from traditional coaching approaches to allow more player empowerment. This is significant as many initiatives in the field of sport coaching and rugby in New Zealand have emphasised athlete-centred approaches that aim to empower players to make their own decisions about their training and learning. Coaches interviewed in New Zealand spoke much less frequently about development beyond the physical or technical domain, and instead, communicated their intentions as a coach to develop technical proficiency for the purpose of safety and strategic ability.