Monday 25 June 2012

A question of race?

Today I wanted to highlight a debate in the New Zealand Herald that I think has had the correct media treatment applied.

The New Zealand Herald is one of the best newspapers in the country and this clearly shows why.

The debate was about the operation of quota systems in medicine schools to allow a certain of number of Maori to train as doctors. It was kicked off, this time, by former ACT leader Rodney Hide in this opinion.

In it Hide said he was prompted to write the opinion after receiving a phone call from Dr Ranginui Walker during a radio show.

Hide said he “had been complaining about the two standards of entry to medical school: one for Maori and one for everyone else”.

“The (Auckland) university dropped the bar to a B-bursary for Maori. Everyone else needed an A-bursary or better. Once into medical school, though, Maori students had to perform and pass like everyone else.”

He also spoke of an adjustment to the selection scheme that allowed students’ suitability based on elements other than just academic success.

“They were no longer strictly academic. It counted if students did kapa haka, went to the marae, played sports or practised music.

 “Walker explained that gave Pakeha students "a bit of an edge over Asian students who are totally, single-mindedly focused on academic excellence and had nothing else to offer the profession.”

Later he admonished processes that use quota systems and other “touchy-feely criteria” to select candidates.

“The colour of a student's skin now counts for entry to medical school, as well as academic record and ability. It shouldn't.

“The legendary George Nepia wasn't selected for the 1928 All Blacks tour of South Africa. He was left out for a simple reason: he was brown. That was wrong. Maori players first toured South Africa as All Blacks in 1970. They toured as "honorary whites". That was disgusting.

“I was brought up with the ideal that we should judge people by what they do - it's wrong to judge people by their race, colour or creed. Everyone should be free to play; selection should be based on merit.

“Auckland University's policy turns that ideal upside down. Skin colour counts. For Walker, the correct mix of colour is more important than having the best class.

“But race, colour, creed shouldn't worry us. We shouldn't care if doctors are yellow, white or brown. All we should care about is that they are good at the job. And that should be the university's sole concern. It is wrong that the university discriminates on skin colour. It is wrong that it is attempting a correct colour mix. The university should treat all applicants equally: that means being blind to race.”

In response the Herald published this column from Craig Riddell, the president of the Auckland University Medical Students' Association who also happens to be Maori.

Riddell used the opinion piece to cleanly and effectively deconstruct Hide’s argument against quota systems.

He argued that through quota schemes there is a better chance of training “doctors who are culturally fluent and not merely culturally aware”.

“Strong interpersonal skills and commitment to extra-curricular activities mean more rounded people and potentially better doctors.

“…The University of Auckland's actions towards these goals are laudable, not lamentable.

“Maori and Pacific students are not the only group with different admission standards. Similar logic underpins the Regional-Rural Admissions Scheme, which provides places for rural students to enter medicine based on an assessment of their connection to their local community.”

Like Michael Laws, Paul Holmes and countless others before I suspect Rodney Hide knows that the race card always draws a large amount of attention and for a former politician struggling to find their relevance that is like gold.

But the fact that by the time I came across the opinion piece (a week after it was first published) and debate on it had already been closed because of the standard of comments shows that this sort of sensationalist opinion-writing always attracts the radicals.

I do not think that we should completely avoid articles that are against Maori however I do believe in the right of response and I think the Herald did a wonderful job by giving Riddell a chance to respond to Hide’s statements. Ka pai.

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