Remarks by the Hon Justice Stephen Kós at the launch of From Empire’s Servant to Global Citizen: A History of Massey University


From Empire’s Servant to Global Citizen

Launch remarks by the Hon Justice Stephen Kós
President of the Court of Appeal and former Pro-Chancellor of Massey University
Massey University, Palmerston North, 7 December 2016


New Zealand history has been fortunate in recent years in its authors — and publishers.

Empire’s Servant is the latest distinguished entry among a superb group of recently published New Zealand histories.

To name three others, highlights of the past 12 months or so, there is Seddon by Tom Booking, The Great War for New Zealand by Vincent O’Malley, and Barbara Brookes’ History of New Zealand Women.

The comparison is high praise, but it is deserved.

This volume comes at an important time. As Professor Belgrave notes, most of the histories that have been written for New Zealand Universities have been published at a time when the nature and value of university life were uncontested.

But as he also notes, in the late twentieth century, universities are facing significant challenges from global competition and technological change.

To that might be added deep uncertainties caused by new funding models: the sea change caused by the emphasis on research-based funding at the expense of traditional teaching functions and pastoral care.

As Professor Belgrave says:

Writing a history of a university in 2016 is to confront an uncertain future. Like every other university, Massey as we know it may be threatened by massive changes that will transform the very nature of university teaching research. In this history the Massey of today can be clearly seen in its past, but for the writer of a later history this may be much more difficult.

These are sobering words.

But this book helps us appreciate a distinctive feature of Massey University: that it has always been in turmoil. That simply is the price of leadership, whether intellectual — or (as we have seen this week) political.

Confronting turmoil has made Massey muscular and strong. Inspired leadership has meant that Massey has long been ahead of the technological curve.

Its emphasis on distance learning — for instance — holds Massey in good stead for the future.

Extramural teaching is one of the jewels in Massey’s crown. Although it is perhaps the strength of Massey that it has many such jewels in a glittering crown. Most colleges had their turn, although in their annual presentation to Council the College of Creative Arts always had a slightly unfair visual advantage.

It was an act of muscular foresight twenty years ago that has me here today. I had no connection with Massey. My undergraduate law degree was from Victoria, my graduate law degree from Cambridge.

When I returned to New Zealand I acted for more than a decade for NZUSA. In that capacity I acted for it in some representative proceedings alleging negligence against another university concerning an ill-planned graduate programme. The student cohort had wasted time and money, and incurred loss. The proceedings got a lot of attention — the university asserting the right to do wrong as a matter of inviolable academic freedom. The High Court rejected that argument, and the case settled.

Massey’s farsightedness led the then Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Graeme Fraser to ask me to turn from poacher to gamekeeper. Would I advise the university on legal risk in the new not so academically free environment? With NZUSA’s blessing, I did so, and my long association began.

It is typical of this place that its leaders are looking around the corner ahead.



Professor Belgrave’s magnificent history places the university in its historical context. As the author notes, different forms of land tenure and technological changes such as refrigeration had by 1914 revolutionised New Zealand’s pastoral economy and transformed the social and political fabric of the country’s rural landscape.

Massey followed Lincoln’s establishment. But in the first two decades of the last century, it became inevitable that a second institution — intended as an eminent part of the University of New Zealand in its own right — would be established.

Well, the major universities were a bit sniffy about agricultural education. But they were hardly inspiring temples of intellectual rigour anyway.

As Professor Belgrave puts it:

The majority of students were taught part-time, often after hours, and many were exempted from lectures. With the examination systems fostering cramming, the liberal arts worshipped facts with as much reverence as the narrow minded farmer who prided himself on his no-nonsense approach to agriculture. The brightest minds were like lamb carcasses, exported only partly processed, to be finished in other markets.

Both Auckland and Victoria Universities established chairs in agriculture in the early twenties. The occupants were Peren, and Riddet. But neither university had a suitable campus for agricultural education. Something of a tug of war began.

The book is fascinating on the arguments that raged over where the second agricultural college would go. Parochialism is one of the things that New Zealand does best. It came to the fore in the placement — and ultimately the naming — of Massey.

The northerners favoured Ruakura. It had been an experimental farm since 1901.  But it really was too remote and anyway southern interests stymied it. Masterton, Marton and Levin were all possibilities.

At one point a brilliant compromise of Taupo was proposed, equidistant between the two principal universities with their established chairs but no agricultural school.

As Professor Belgrave notes, Victoria and Auckland need considerable credit for putting aside ancient grudges.

Peren and Riddet’s ability to work together was critical.

So too was the figure of George Fowlds, a clothing magnate, whom the book records as Massey’s forgotten patron. He was President of the Auckland University College and a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand.

Fowlds knew two separate schools could never properly be funded, and he accepted that Ruakura and sites around Auckland were not appropriate. So Massey headed south. And not to Taupo.

Land was acquired in the Manuwatu. Fowlds became first chair of the new college. At this point a new parochialism emerged — Lincoln. Well connected politically, it insisted that the new college limit itself to dairying. It seems from Professor Belgrave’s book that assurances along these lines were made, and then duly shelved.

An indication of the shelving was the new name of the college: The New Zealand Agricultural College. That was a red rag to Lincoln and its supporters. But then, inevitably, a compromise occurred.

Farmer Bill Massey, the New Zealand Premier, had recently died. The pragmatic Gordon Coates, his successor, solved the impasse by naming the college after him. Hence Massey. I knew the source, but only from reading Professor Belgrave, the rationale.

Two other interesting facts struck me at about this point in the book.

The first was that Tiritea, one of the estates on which Massey was raised, had been owned by a rather infamous Chief Justice of New Zealand. He was Sir James Prendergast. It was his decision of 1877 which described the Treaty of Waitangi as a ‘simple nullity’ — on the basis that the adverse circumstances of Maori did not permit them to contract at all.

The second is that Massey’s start in distance learning actually came from its absorption at foundation of Victoria University’s then Palmerston North campus, which had specialised in extramural teaching.



If Peren, Riddet and Fowlds were Massey’s spiritual architects, its physical architect was the inspired and inspiring Roy Lippincott. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a brother-in-law of Walter Burley Griffin, designer of Canberra. Lippincott was also the architect of Auckland University’s gothic confection of a clock tower.

Professor Belgrave is very good on architectural as well as educational history. Lippincott’s grand plan for Massey was never really entirely realised, but this Peren building and Refectory are his work. And so is the layout of the campus, with its broad leafy drives. (Although it seems to me that from one of the plans reproduced in the book broad leafy that its orientation has been flipped.)

Professor Belgrave returns to the subject of architecture in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the ‘new brutalism’ movement of that time. It is a fair observation. It is not architecture that has worn well. But no worse at Massey than other places, and given the greensward in which it is set, perhaps slightly better.

One feels Roy Lippincott would have been happier, however, with the Tuscan tinges of Albany.



He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. Good history draws out profoundly influential personalities and this is very good history. The book is excellent on the great personalities who founded this university.

It is particularly good on Peren, Riddet and Alan Stewart. As to the latter, there is this delightful passage:

Stewart may have had no social pretensions, he may have taken the Newmans bus to joust with the bureaucrats of Wellington, but he was still the boss. As John T Reid, Massey’s third Rhodes Scholar commented, if University management was about herding cats, ‘Stewie was not much into stroking’.

Stewart was a command and control man. He signed all the maintenance orders. But in one of his inspection tours he did find a stamp with his initials in the maintenance offices. He returned a paper dart to the lecturer whose dull class had inspired its trial flight out an upstairs window. He even, remarkably, approved personally the abduction of a visiting Governor-General as part of a student stunt.

History is a little like astronomy. The recent past, like the bright lights of a city, spoils view and perspective. So perhaps Neil Waters seems a less distinct figure, although the reality is that he had to deal with a much wider array of issues than Alan Stewart, and was bound to delegate more. His personality was necessarily less dominant than his predecessors.

The tenure of James McWha is rather defined by the restructuring episode. And that of Judith Kinnear by her arguments with Council. I was a member of that Council. The book hints the argument arose from Massey’s PBRF funding performance at the time. In fact the Council applauded Judith’s adjustment to the new funding era, and her drive for more rigorous research activity. The real row began over financial reporting and administration — now hugely improved. But enough said. That can await a second edition.

I will say, though, that I am glad to have been one of those responsible for shoulder-tapping the last Vice-Chancellor, Steve Maharey, and I pay credit to him for Massey’s recent regeneration of spirit and purpose.



As Professor Belgrave said — in words I quoted at the beginning of this address — the diffuse effect of great changes will make authoritative university history difficult in the future.

That may be so, but we are deeply fortunate to have this authoritative and engaging history now.

One of the great recommendations of this book is that it is not so much a history of Massey University, as a history of tertiary education in New Zealand in the last century.

It is worth reading for that alone.

I commend this book to a wide readership. I am honoured to be asked to launch it formally, and I do so now without further ado.

With much gratitude and enthusiasm, I give you From Empire’s Servant to Global Citizen by Professor Michael Belgrave.