Victoria University, victims of crime can go to hell

Continuing in our series of Migrant Tales, first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand taken from locations around the net.

Today’s tale was first published on a NZ forum which has since closed down.
If you are studying as an international student in New Zealand you may find the following story disturbing.

This is it. This has been in the Herald and the Dom Post now:…objectid=10871091…dmits-phone-theft

For me, although most people think the university is making a crazy decision, this is an example of the cronyism, laziness, self-interest and mind-numbing bureaucracy that makes up a good chunk of the prevailing institutional cultures in NZ.

I won’t say that this applies to all institutions, but I have a hard time imagining that what happened to me would happen anywhere else.

Full story:

But for those too lazy to click a link, imagine this:

– A university caretaker tasked with security steals a PhD student’s $800 phone from the bathroom of the building early one morning.
– That morning, the caretaker tells the PhD student he hasn’t found any phone in the building that morning.
– Six months later, in a serendipitous act, the PhD student tracks down the phone and finds it to be in the possession of the caretaker.
– He collects evidence after remotely installing apps to the phone and hands it to the police.
– The police are great: they arrest him, charge him and he appears in court.

– The PhD student tells the university what’s happened.
– After a two week investigation, where the PhD student isn’t consulted in any way, the university tell him that an investigation has been completed. The caretaker will keep his job. The caretaker will have to write the student an apology and buy a new SIM card. The student will also have the opportunity to tell the caretaker how he feels in a mediation session.

– The student objects most strongly, and tells the university he does not want to participate in the restorative justice process. Rather, he would like to see the caretaker suspended and then his employment terminated. The student tells them he does not like the idea of sharing the campus for the next two years with the man who committed a crime against him and who lied about it to his face, and he may consider withdrawing from the scholarship and the PhD if this is the final outcome.

– The university tell him that they are satisfied with their processes. They are “disappointed” in the student for not wanting to take part in the restorative justice offered, as the offender was keen to take part. They tell the student that they wish him “All the best for the future.”

– The student approaches the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Research. The Dean says he is very concerned, but refuses to translate that concern into using his power to do anything.

– The suggestion is that the student put up with it; that he doesn’t use the campus; that he should carry on at the university regardless.

– The student withdraws from the PhD, as no one has treated him fairly and he fears for his property. He loses his scholarship. The university then take away his teaching position as the student cannot guarantee that he will be in Wellington for the entire semester.

– The student and his partner lose 1/3 of their income.

– The student applies to another university, but another scholarship is highly uncertain. If the student doesn’t get another scholarship, then career opportunities in New Zealand are so poor he will have to move back to Europe and change careers. Aside from the time wasted trying to find work in New Zealand, he will have wasted a year of study and thousands of dollars in immigration costs.

– The caretaker has kept his job. The caretaker pleads guilty in court and applies for a discharge without conviction. If he is granted the discharge without conviction, then he will have stolen while tasked with securing university buildings, destroyed a student’s life and security, and get away without consequences.

– The student will have to leave Wellington. He may have to be separated from his partner of 4 years, whom he moved to NZ to be with. At the very least, it will cost thousands of dollars to move to another city; at the most, it could cost tens of thousands to move back to Europe and get his partner a visa. They face a separation of up to a year if he has to go back to Europe.

This is how justice plays out at Victoria University of Wellington: they care more about the caretakers who steal than they do about the postgraduates. This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with the Kiwi attitude of “lump it or leave it”, but it’s the first time that someone has committed a crime against me and then looks like he’s managed to walk away in a considerably better position than I’ve been put in.

I’m devastated. I can’t sue: you can’t sue people on contingency here because the courts don’t award damages like they do elsewhere so lawyers won’t operate on contingency. An initial appointment will cost hundreds of dollars, and they’ll charge you that to tell you that you won’t get anything from it.

The university has taken this attitude because this is the attitude that large public organisations in New Zealand take: there are precious few mechanisms in place to bring people to account, so they act with impunity. In my case, the university have acted like they did and the weak, spineless responses of senior academic staff have enabled it. It was far too much trouble to take a stand for a PhD student: much easier to force the student out and keep the thieving toerag of a caretaker.

Accountability is lacking: it’s a systemic problem that isn’t fixed by the quasi judicial bodies designed to open up the processes, because they don’t do the job they’re supposed to do. Often they’re selected by the people they’re supposed to be policing (for example, Anthony Hill, the Health and Disability Commissioner) and most of the time they lack basic competence because their actions are never systemically reviewed like they are in other countries.

This has to be a warning: people need to know who’s running the universities here. I would say that especially people in Asia need to know. They may be astounded to realise that the university is willing to expose their children to this kind of risk.

Help me out – spread the word outside NZ – spread the blog inside! There needs to be accountability, and if the university won’t provide it, and if the offender is trying his hardest to avoid it, then the people who have the potential to be affected need to know.

I’ve applied to another university, and the two people who want to supervise me are Canadians, which may or may not make things slightly better. But I’m not holding out much hope.

The worst part is that the faculty at Vic is more international than anything else. The Dean of the FGR is English, my supervisor is Australian, most of the faculty is European. I’ve actually had a lot of support from ordinary students and many Kiwis, but it seems like the part of the university system that can do something just doesn’t bother. Too much effort!

The problem is that layer of bureaucracy that’s occupied by spineless idiots. I know, for example, of academics that took and stand and were frozen out of the community for other reasons. I know it’s a risky move, but I have nothing else to lose.

But trying to excuse criminal actions and favouring the criminal over the victim is a step too far. I hope the courts will take the effects of the theft as seriously as they are and reject the request for a discharge without conviction. But the problem is that you’re at the judge’s mercy.

It’s Vic’s loss – and even more, it’s NZ’s loss. We’re both highly qualified, we have a lot of money in Kiwisaver, and if we have to go, we won’t be coming back.

I’m not hugely fond of the place – I’ve dealt with the cronyism, lack of systems of accountability, lack of ‘stick’ to make people take action to correct bad behaviour. But I have a wonderful partner, her family is great, and we’re happy together wherever we are.

This is Wellington though, and everyone I’ve had to deal with on other issues has been from the **** civil service in Wellington. I’ve heard that the further south you go the better it gets, which is generally my experience.

Most people are astounded when they get told. The police have been really good. They made it very clear that they disagreed with the university’s actions. Victim support, again, really good. The journalists I’ve spoken to have also been astounded at the attitude of the university.

But you know what it’s like here: a decision gets made and it doesn’t change, no matter what the circumstances. People bend reality for their own purposes, ignore what they like and try and justify their decision on grounds that would get them sued to high heaven anywhere else.

But you can’t sue here, can you? Not unless you want to syphon off your savings into a lawyer’s bank account and get no damages and no costs, but a win in principle.

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