Simple people can make simple gestures that have massive effects

Today is a good day.  Today the University of Canterbury’s Engineering Society and the UCSA President, Sarah Platt, delivered public apologies and commitments to make changes that do not encourage offensiveness, divisiveness and bigotry.  Beyond this, the University of Canterbury’s Vice Chancellor, Rod Carr, also offered an important statement.  In particular, he says:

“…as a university community we have not yet fully developed the sensitivity and empathy which are the hallmarks of the open, inclusive, responsive, diverse campus we aspire to be, and as Vice-Chancellor for the last five years, I apologise for those shortcomings and the hurt felt by a number of our staff and students as a consequence.”

What is missing from the statements is a strong moral condemnation of the behaviour and, discussions of how to make things right for those affected.  However, in lieu of this, and as cheesy as it sounds, I hope this is a time for fighting to stop and healing to begin.  Some of the right words have been said and, as an eternal optimist, I am hopeful that all the right action will follow.

This isn’t the end of what will be an ongoing programme to ensure all students feel included and their voices heard.  There will always be idiots out there who think it’s funny/cool/popular to purposefully hurt others. Indeed, I have a PhD student starting soon who is looking specifically at online Trolling behaviour.  We may never completely be free from this, but as long as it is not encouraged or tolerated from our student bodies and leaders then we can all hope for an improvement on campus and beyond.

This, in my mind, is a victory for me and the hundreds who have voiced their support for what was a simple gesture.  This doesn’t mean it has been plain sailing.  Many people have been hurt in the aftermath.  My friends have been worried for me – I’ve received some ‘lovely’ messages – people have been focusing on me rather than celebrating Alex Tan (University-wide Lecturer of the Year) or all the other award winners on the night – I have taken up people’s time and, more than anything, I have taken up people’s energy.  None of which was intended and I apologise for this.  I am, however, still glad that I took a stand because, as today shows, simple people can make simple gestures that have massive effects.

Whoever you are; however you see yourself; whatever you believe in; whomever you love; whatever your ability, you have the right to dignity, love and acceptance.  It’ll take time, but we are well on the way.

Students: Focus on your studies – it’s time to kick ass in your exams.

ENSOC Administrators and Members: Well done for taking a stand – I never intended to implicate all of you in the actions and mistakes of a few.  I apologise if that’s how it was received and I’ll do my best not to make the same mistake again.

UCSA and Sarah Platt in particular: You have shown courage in face of a situation that you were unlikely ever expecting.  Mistakes were made, but by owning up to them and committing to represent everyone you have shown mana beyond your years.

Never be afraid to stand for what you truly believe is right.  If you’re unsure, do as I did and run it past a few people smarter than you are.  Have them critique you.  Have them argue with you and, if after all that, you still feel strongly about it, then stand up and have your voice heard.

Much love


I want to re-iterate, again, that despite receiving a lot of love after returning my award I was doing so because it was what I felt was right – I was not representing any club or any society or voicing others’ opinions.  No one approached me prior to returning my award. But, I should give a shoutout to those in FEMSOC who started the conversation.  You took the flak that allowed me to speak up.  This was never meant to be an ENSOC vs FEMSOC issue – I hope you are all encouraged by the result.


Would I ever take my award back?

Well…my little gesture seems to have blown up more than I intended or expected.  I’ve been a little busy the last couple of days, but it has been for the right reasons.  Yesterday, I did a live chat on  Afterwards, a good friend of mine from Canada emailed me to say he was watching it with interest. One question he wanted to ask, but didn’t, was ‘Under what circumstances would I consider re-accepting my award?’.  I’m glad he didn’t ask it because it is not something I had considered – I have returned my award and I don’t wish to have it back; however, in the spirit of all learning together, it would be wrong of me to not consider what would need to change in order for me to consider that the issue had been taken seriously.

An apology

I don’t mean ‘I’m sorry you’re offended’ or some lip service to placate the masses.  A sincere, heartfelt apology and a promise that everything possible will be done to ensure this sort of divisive behaviour is never encouraged again.  If the ENSOC Administrators and the organisers of the RoUndie 500 had done this from the start, there would be no issues.

A sustainable change in behaviour

If you’ve taken any of my classes on Social Marketing you will know that changing attitudes or educating people is meaningless unless we see active and substantive voluntary changes to long-term behaviour.  I don’t want a forced change.  I don’t want behaviour that appears to have changed, but will be back in a few months.  I want to see an active and purposeful change in behaviour now and have it sustained for the long-term.  This may mean a culture shift in certain student bodies – let’s do this. I’m happy to help.

A culture of inclusiveness, not tolerance

I was quite annoyed at the statement from the UCSA that we need to have a tolerant campus.  I don’t really feel women and minority groups feel they should be ‘tolerated’. What is it we do that annoys you so much that you feel you need to put up with us? Get rid of the word from all your documentation and work towards being inclusive rather than putting up with us.

An acceptance that Diversity Week won’t fix things

I have my issues with ‘Diversity Week’.  Although it seems well meaning, the idea that we have a week to focus on diversity issues simply highlights how little Diversity issues are considered the other 51 weeks.  If I had my way, we wouldn’t have a ‘diversity week’ – we’d have an inclusive society and it wouldn’t be paraded during a single week in March, but just part of everyday life – all year round.  I get the feeling that Diversity Week will be like the British Museum – a display of post-colonial ‘kindness’ to show how wonderful the empire is at drawing the nations together.  Don’t treat people of different ages, genders, abilities, races, sexual preferences etc as treasures to display so everyone can see how well you’ve done.  It’s like teaching the single class on ethics in a student’s first year and saying ‘yup, that’ll do’ – ethics and morality should be ingrained into every aspect of every course if it’s really to be treated seriously.  Same with inclusiveness.

A focus on academics, not side shows

This has consumed far too much of everyone’s time, especially when we are so close to exams.  Students are here to study and let’s get back to doing that.  Don’t let this consume you any more.  UCSA President, Sarah Platt, and I had a very quick chat yesterday – she first returned the money I had given her saying it was non-negotiable.  Secondly, she wanted to assure me that this is not the end of the discussion.  More will be done.  I am taking her word on this matter and so should everyone else.

On Monday there will be an International Forum with the Vice Chancellor and Sarah Platt.  They’ve invited me along to the event.  I won’t be there to make any grandiose speeches or call for further action.  I’ll be there to listen and ensure that this is not swept under the carpet.

So, if you feel you have been ignored on the topic, you have a voice – I am no leader or shining idol – just a person doing what he felt was right – and, it seems, many agree with me.  Get back to work.

Quick point of clarification that many (mainly commenting in the press) have misconstrued

I want to repeat at this point that I am not upset or offended by racist and sexist behaviour.  I’m a big boy and I’m above that.  What I’m upset and offended at is that a small group of students seek to encourage racist and sexist behaviour.  The fact that the RoUndie 500 organisers specifically asked for ‘the more inappropriate the better’ costumes is the issue here.  There will always be idiots out there, but we don’t need to encourage them.  There is no systemic hatred at Canterbury any more than anywhere else, but the fact that it’s glorified by the ENSOC administration is, to me, disgusting and needs to be addressed.

The actions taken by the few do not represent ENSOC members as a whole, engineers as a student body, the University of Canterbury and certainly not New Zealand as a nation.  Some have asked me what they should do if they disagree with these people’s stance – distance yourself – separate yourself as much as possible from them.  Do not quit your engineering studies, don’t move to another institution (there’s no guarantees it’ll be any better, trust me!); just don’t be seen to be associating with people that uphold and glorify bigoted behaviour.  From a simple marketing perspective (after all, that’s what I should be talking about), having your brand (ie, yourself) associated with a group that has not apologised for their actions and made no promises to change their behaviour is not going to help you in the long-run.  Distance yourself.

Why I returned my 2014 Lecturer of the Year (College of Business and Law) award

Returning my Award

Returning my Award

It is with deep regret that this morning I returned my Lecturer of the Year award for the College of Business and Law 2014. Before I tell you why I gave back this honour I want to assure you that these are my words and my words alone. I am writing this in my capacity as an academic who has the responsibility to be the critic and conscience of society. Unfortunately, the society in question is also where I work.

Now, to my reasons for returning my award. The University of Canterbury is a wonderful organisation and I have enjoyed my time here more than any other appointment I have had. I am supported in my teaching and research as well as have great friends here. However, there is an underbelly of hate that raises its head from time to time. My earliest experience of this came in my first semester of teaching at UoC when I was reading the anonymous feedback from students. In the section where it asked “what should be changed to improve the course” one student wrote “his ethnicity”. I’ve been brown all my life, so I’m used to racism. Whether it’s the ignorant throwaway comment or the overtly aggressive act, I’ve seen it and experienced it and I know one day my daughters will see it and experience it. This is why I’m taking a stand. Because I don’t want my girls to live in a world where hate exists and I know I’ve done nothing to try and stop it.

A few weeks ago the Engineering Society held the RoUndie 500. Participants of the event were encouraged to decorate their cars and come in costumes and that the more inappropriate these were, the better. This led to a series of costumes that were undeniably racist and sexist.

My race is not inappropriate. The gender of my daughters is equally not inappropriate. But for people to jump on these old chestnuts in order to cause offence just continues to highlight this ugly underbelly. This is offensive and inappropriate.

The University of Canterbury, to its credit, has taken the complaints to heart and come up with some swift actions. I am told that the Uni’s representative on the day censored the most offensive content before participants left campus. I’m glad this was done. But it does not address the fact that the organisers purposefully wanted to cause offence and be inappropriate.

What was missing from the final report was any apology from the organisers or participants or promise to not behave in this manner again. I will not deny that I’ve offended people in the past. I am often told I’m am the least PC lecturer students have had; however, I do not purposefully go out to offend and hurt people. If I do, I sincerely apologise and I change my behaviour to ensure I do not hurt someone again.

I am not confident that the UCSA’s response will ensure that the behaviour is not repeated. As a result, I have no proof that the UCSA has taken the matter seriously. With no apology and no guarantee of ensuring similar behaviour does not occur again I believe that racist and sexist behaviour will continue.  Indeed, this is not the first time that the ENSOC has acted in an overtly racist manner and despite the UCSA’s actions after that matter (the use of blackface to promote a cafe) nothing has changed. This does not make for a safe and inclusive workplace for me.

It is for these reasons I cannot be associated with the organisation that gave me the award. If the UCSA is unwilling to take a strong stance against racist and sexist behaviour by students then I cannot be seen to benefit from them. As such, I returned my award along with $50 to cover the cost of the prizes I received. If you need more money to cover the costs, please let me know and I’ll give you more. I don’t want you to be out of pocket for my decision.

Some will tell me to harden up and learn to take a joke. Nothing seems that funny when you’re the target of divisiveness and hatred.  It’s like the bully telling the victim “we were just having a laugh! It was all fun!”

Some will say that I don’t understand satire (a common argument used against those offended by the group’s actions). Satire can offend, but that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to ridicule and critique – being inappropriate and offensive is not, in my mind, being satirical.

Some will say that because I didn’t see it, then it doesn’t affect me. I didn’t see Malaysian Airline’s disasters, but my heart still breaks for those involved – to see images of the victims mocked by ENSOC is, in my mind, bad taste. I don’t have to physically see something to be affected by it – it’s simple empathy and decency.

I will lose favour with many for my actions – I know that. I may even be damaging my career. I may never win another teaching award. All of this is worth it to take a stand. As I said at the start of this piece, I can’t look at my daughters knowing I stood by and did nothing.

I want to thank all the students that voted for me for this year’s award. I hope my actions are not taken as a disrespect to the generosity you have shown me. If you voted for me and feel let down or betrayed, please do get in touch and I’ll happily sit with you and explain my actions in person.

Much love


I want to assure people that I am not represented by any society on campus nor have I been contacted by any member of any society.

Shut up and WRITE!

An open letter…to myself

Dear Ekant,

I want you to take this in the best possible way, but I know it’s something you don’t want to hear. That said, someone has to say it. It’s time for you to shut up and write.

I know you’ve had a tough year and you’ve taken on a lot of extra work. Guess what, all this extra work is stopping you from writing. It’s getting in the way of your future and what you need to do. Yes it’s all important and yes it’s helping other parts of your career, but you’re also leaning on these things to seek permission to not get ahead. Frankly, I’m sick of your excuses. You need to shut up and write.

It’s hard. God, don’t I know it’s hard. You’re about to bare your work to the world and be judged for it. You’re correct, right now, you’re safe, because no one will ever criticise your work. That’s because no one can read your mind. But, the same thing that is keeping you feeling safe is holding you back. No one can judge your work because it doesn’t exist. It won’t exist till you write it down. And no one can learn from you or find joy from your work, if you don’t just shut up and write.image

Don’t get me wrong, I know how much effort you’ve put in so far. But you’ve read enough, you’ve thought enough and you have enough data. When I say “write”, I don’t mean rethink the framing; I don’t mean read another tangentially relevant article; I don’t mean have another coffee with a colleague to discuss your work; I don’t mean re-analyse your data, and I certainly don’t mean collect more data. I mean writing. Putting your fingers to the keyboard and putting letters on the screen. When you start, the words will come. But this will never happen, if you don’t shut up and write.

If the words don’t come straight away, don’t stop. Don’t listen to the negativity that swirls in your head. Don’t make excuses like “I don’t feel it, right now” or “I have writers’ block”. Persevere. Tell those excuses to shut up, because you’re writing. You’re good at what you do, but only you and you alone can do this. At the same time, only you and you alone can halt this. Don’t you dare blame anything, or anyone else. Just shut up and write.

Nothing…NOTHING will happen, if you don’t just shut up and write.

Is Academia Broken? Parochialism

It seems more and more apparent that the words ‘real research’ encroach in to judging academics’ contributions to knowledge.  It’s a thinly veiled insult that doesn’t demean the recipient, but shows the insecurity of the deliverer.  The idea that someone’s work is more ‘real’ than another’s is laughable.  There may be more appropriate ways of carrying out research to answer a chosen research question, but determining one person’s work as being more important than another’s simply because they do not use your chosen theories or methods is simply not true.  In my mind, this animosity between academics can be explained by one of two factors: A disagreement as to what constitutes valuable knowledge, and a lack of respect for alternative expressions of knowledge, which is often driven by parochialism and ego defence.

What is Valuable Knowledge?

Anything (yes, anything) that advances knowledge, even just a tiny, tiny bit, is valuable.  Yeah, even the stuff that seems obvious is valuable – it may not be valuable to you, but it is valuable.  It is valuable to the field – it is valuable as a set up to a larger study – it is valuable to the individual who created the knowledge – it is valuable – the value may not be high, but it is still valuable.

Don’t dismiss a piece of work just because someone has used a methodology different to your preferred one to create the knowledge.  Argue that the chosen methodology is poorly carried out or that the methodology has been applied inappropriately (e.g. using qualitative methods to create findings that are generalizable to a population or an inaccuracy in how a model is calculated).

Equally, don’t dismiss a piece of work because it isn’t using your pet theory. Not every piece of knowledge needs to be framed around a singular trend that you (and your colleagues) are touting.  However, this aggressive defence of one’s own preferred methods and theories seems to be increasingly common and, in my mind, seems to stem from a simple foundation – the academic system promotes parochialism – so much so, that academics are fighting with one another about what the best way to create knowledge is.

Parochialism and Ego Defence

Why are some academics so defensive of their own turf? Why do they care so much about defending how they create knowledge to the extent that we attack others for deviating from their course – as if the chosen course is the best and only course? Because the academic system encourages an aggressive publication game – and to ensure that our chosen research path is publishable, some academics feel it necessary to attack anything that could be seen to counter their world view.  Rather than excel in one’s chosen field, it’s often easier to discredit those in different fields.

The idea that one’s life work could be carried out in a different (and potentially better) manner is difficult for some to swallow – especially when academics are known for their eccentricities and egos.  We are so closely tied with what we do, that an attack on our work is counter-volleyed with a salvo of attacks in defence because an attack on our work is like attacking our creation– our children – and our poor, indefensible children need to be defended – well, that seems to be the justification for acting like an ass.  But our work is not who we are – our work is not our children – our work is simple that – our work.

So, who fired first? Does it really matter?! What matters is that life is too short to care about what others think of you, especially if the other group has little or no bearing on your career.  IF you face defensiveness from an editor of a leading journal or your Promotion & Tenure committee, then you have a different battle on your hand.  Knowing how to defend your work (and promote its benefits) is a crucial skill – but jumping in to every fight in order to promote your value is draining and likely to build heightened animosity between groups who are all trying to do the same thing – create valuable knowledge.

So, when should academics bite?  When you see someone using the wrong methods to answer a chosen research question; when you see someone using a method inappropriately; when you see theories inappropriately applied; when you see holes in the research, and, when you have evidence of research fraud.  Just because someone does something differently isn’t worth your time or effort.  If your entire career teeters on public opinion of your research, then perhaps re-evaluate your career direction (and life priorities).

Why students MUST NOT be treated like customers

Originally posted on on Jan 13, 2012

I’m not sure who I’m writing this entry for. Professors who struggle with demanding students? Students who think Profs should follow them around ready to answer their every query. Perhaps administrators who have been reading management books on being Customer Focused and assuming students are our customers. What I do know, is that I’m often confronted by students who claim that they are my customers and as such, I should be willing to do anything they demand. I’m usually quite willing to sit with diligent students and aid them with their studies. But this sort of “I pay your wages” approach doesn’t inspire much sympathy in me, and let me tell you why.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a customer is “a person who buys goods or services from a shop or business”. In this sense, my students are one of my customers. If my students were my only customers and my job was to satisfy their needs, then surely the easiest option would be to award all students an ‘A’ regardless of attendance of performance in assessment. This way, students who wish to gain knowledge can attend classes, do the readings and study for the various assessment, and those that don’t care about learning anything can just drink their way through the semester and still get an A. This would be the rationale answer if students were my customers…but guess what, they’re not. The objection from me is when a student assumes they’re my only customer. Notwithstanding the hundreds of other students I have, there are many other customers; most of whom are far more important than students themselves.

Their future employer, their workmates, their corporate clients, their parents, the taxpayer that funds their education and the systems that enable them to receive an education, the government that allocates funding to support their education, the builder who put his or her sweat and blood into building the lecture hall they now sit in and tweet about the contents of the vending machine, the University that houses them while they study…all of these are my customers as well. All of whom I have a lot of respect for. By giving my students everything they demand in class, I disrespect a huge number of other customers who have enabled their education and could, one day, benefit from their education. If I just think about my students’ wants, then I’m not being customer focused at all.

Possibly the customer who is of most concern to me, as a lecturer, are my students’ future employers and the people my students will one day work with. I could be a glorified babysitter for my students and teach them nothing of any value, and hand out ‘A’s to everyone. Their future employers, who trust me and my institution to provide an education, are not exactly going to be satisfied. Indeed, future hirings from my classes may drop if this pattern becomes too widespread. If I don’t push my students to their very limits in class then how will they possibly stand up to the vicious world they emerge into once they’ve left the safety net of University? If I pander to their every whim, will they have a realistic opinion of their line managers when they’re expected to make a profit for their future employers?

No, students are not my customers. Students are more like a product to me…let’s say, a car. When they enter University they are a stock car with a standard engine, plain paneling and the most basic accessories to enable them to work. My job as a University lecturer is to supercharge those cars and have them ready to compete in the race that is to come. This process hurts. It is tough on the car. It might even mean stripping the car down to its most basic elements and building it up again. We do the same with students’ thinking sometimes. We challenge the way they think, we encourage them to critically assess what they know and creatively solve problems they face. Most students can’t do this straight out of high school.

I’m not a nice lecturer that hands out extensions, that listens to them whine or spends hours repeating myself because students couldn’t be arsed turning up to lectures. I’m a mean, mean man, but my students come out supercharged. And guess what, they like it. My students humbled me by voting me the Lecturer of the Year for my Uni, both years I have been employed here. Handing students an education on a silver platter is not only doing them a disservice, as they are unprepared for the cold light of life, but also disrespects the many, many other customers we have.

So no, students are not my customers. Students won’t get everything they want…they will get everything they need, and, if they fully engage with what Uni has to offer, they will be well prepared for when they walk out with their degree.

Professors of the World…You’re Boring


Originally posted Jan. 8, 2012 on

I appreciate this title is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, but bear with me for a little bit. We’re boring…if you don’t know it, you should. I’m not talking to the socially incompetent academics or the classic “talk to the board” teachers out there; I’m talking to everyone who has the job of teaching in front of a class of students. You may have decent teaching scores; you may have a shelf littered with teaching awards; you may even have a chilli pepper next to your name on However, you’re boring compared to other things in the students’ lives when you walk into the lecture theatre.

So what’s my point? Simply this: for some reason, some teachers, work ourselves up into a frenzy of stress to make our lectures so fun for our students that they place its importance above everything else. We try to, some how, compete for their limited attention, in order to perhaps make a difference. But, in my mind, this is a waste of energy and time.It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching first year undergraduates or a doctoral class, it is unlikely you are the most exciting thing in their lives. Even if you force them laugh with your cringe-worthy jokes, as is my strategy, or regail them with war-stories from your past life in the field, you are unlikely to be as exciting as them enjoying time with their family, friends, or alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, you may be the most interesting lecturer in your University, perhaps even your field, but you’re still boring compared to other things that the students could be doing.

Students don’t want you to be the ‘coolest’ thing in their lives. They have fun things to do and far cooler people to hang out with. You are there to facilitate their learning. If you need to be lighthearted, fun or relaxed to do that, then so be it. If you need to be forthright, dry or stern, then that’s fine too. As long as their learning, and not your ego, is at the heart of what you do. Being exciting is secondary to being good at your job as a teacher. Students don’t look at you and think “I’d rather be learning from them, than hanging out with my friends or going on holiday”. No, they think “this is the best class I’m taking this year” or “I really enjoy this class”. They compare you against other studies and other lecturers, not other pursuits that make up their, hopefully, well rounded lives.

Good teachers engage their students. You might need to be fun to do this. Equally, you could be interesting. You could be knowledgeable. You could be passionate. You could be charismatic. All are valid paths to being ‘less boring’ but it is unreasonable to suggest you would be so important to the students that they are willing to drop everything in their lives to attend your class, complete their assignment or study for their finals.

One final note before you launch into writing your retorts as to why you’re not boring; think of the converse. If you organised everything in your life, as a professor, from the most fun to the least, I suspect teaching would not be near the top. Perhaps a class you teach has the most interesting group of students this year, but is it as much fun as spending time with family, reading a new book, watching an old movie or writing your revisions for the latest journal article? Students not near the top of your list, so why do you demand that you be at the top of theirs? For the time you spend with them, you should give them your undivided attention, and and they should do the same in return (I have no time for people texting their friends in my class – leave the room or wait till the break). Take your egos elsewhere, you’re not that important to them…

So, stop worrying. Stop trying to come up with kooky ways to make your class more fun than the beach or ski field. It’ll never happen. Your students are adults and have a responsibility for their own learning. Don’t bore them to death when they come to your class, but you don’t need them to follow you around like the pied piper or salivate outside the lecture theatre, desperate to learn from you. You will never trump the other people the students want be with in their lives. But if you do come across a student who would rather spend time with you than any other person, then perhaps a little professional distance would be in order 😉