In 2015 we celebrated the outstanding contribution of Professor Khyla Russell on her retirement.

Khyla, who was Otago Polytechnic’s Kaitohutohu from 2004 to 2015, had a late but meteoric rise through the academic ranks. She was a grandmother before she gained her first degree, a Bachelor of Arts, extramurally through Massey University. This was followed by a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Otago in 2001, on Kai Tahu perceptions of landscapes.

She started her mahi at Otago Polytechnic in 1980, teaching Māori language part-time. She was appointed Kaitohutohu of Otago Polytechnic in November 2004. As part of Otago Polytechnic’s Leadership Team, Khyla’s role included the responsibility of overseeing the incorporation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi into day-to-day operations, alongside adherence to Otago Polytechnic’s Memorandum of Understanding with Ka Araiteuru Papatipu Rūnaka.

A driving motivation in her career was to attract Māori to tertiary education and to ensure appropriate support and retention  services. One way Khyla met this goal was through increasing Te Tiriti o Waitangi and mātauraka awareness for educators, a passion that has informed much of Khyla’s personal, professional, academic and research activities over the years.

She considers one of the highlights of her time as Kaitohutohu as “finding different ways and new ways of inviting people to learn,” and explains that people would come to her because she was known in the Māori community and not because of her role. She believes that she was successful at getting Māori into study by pushing boundaries when needed and by not being overly guided by
rules and regulations – instead using common sense and flexibility to do best for the individual. Khyla also facilitated relationship-building between the institute and the wider Māori community and tertiary sector organisations.

Additionally, she performed an advisory role in Māori-related research undertaken at the Polytechnic and provided consultancy outside of the organisation. Among Khyla’s research outputs were topics on Māori leadership, and processes for engaging with Māori in research, especially relating to public health. She sat on national and international research panels including the Health Research Council and New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund panel for Māori knowledge and Development.

In 2016, Khyla was fittingly bestowed the honour of Professor Emeritus. This award was appropriate recognition of her distinguished leadership in research and contribution to Kai Tahu as well as the enduring and valued relationship with Otago Polytechnic.

“This award was very significant to my iwi as we know of no other Māori woman who has been named Professor Emeritus. It was very humbling to receive the award and have my iwi watching the livestream at the same time via Ngai Tahu Communications.”

She also speaks to the wonderful work of the Kaitohutohu Office team: “I couldn’t have achieved lots of the things I did without the support of the people around me.” 

We thank Khyla for generously sharing her time and expertise with us, advancing Māori participation, research and partnership.