Professor Welby Ings says he wasn’t hungry for knowledge until he was in his late thirties. After being expelled from secondary school, thrown out of teacher's college and dropping out of university after one year, he didn't think he would ever become an academic.
It so happened that Welby was the first in New Zealand to gain his Doctor of Philosophy by creative practice at AUT in 2006.
Welby now holds a professorship at AUT's School of Art & Design, and says the most important thing to him in his role is teaching, and research.
He says he does not believe in a single way of understanding knowledge.
"I couldn't read or write until I was 14, so I was treated as 'dumb' in school. I see it has happened to a lot of students as well and my research is driven by trying to make sure that doesn't happen while providing a space where they are able to recover from it."
An important aspect of Welby’s teaching is his belief that those who are researched must be able to understand the finished product.
“I think it’s a kind of theft to take people's stories and then shape them into something so academic that not everyone can understand.
“It’s our job as academics not just to accumulate knowledge, but to shape it so people can understand and use it. That’s why my teaching and research are so closely linked, because they both focus on the same idea: clarity and beauty of thought is what a scholar gives back to society.”
Welby has found that indigenous cultures offer profound insights into knowledge. This is partly because, he says, for many of them knowledge has a spirit.
“Since the Enlightenment, the West has stripped the spirit off knowledge and are only now discovering that wasn’t such a smart thing to do. But when you look at Pacific and Māori cultures they understand that there are dimensions to knowing that reaches far beyond the explicit.”
Welby’s says his job is to make sure Pacific knowledge and contributions aren’t sitting in an isolated little pocket and being treated as an added extra.
"My research will always have examples of a Pacific student's work because we can often turn people who are not western into the 'other' and this is problematic."
He believes Pacific ways of knowing and understanding belong in the world’s most prominent journals, exhibitions and conferences.
“The focus of my research is on opening doors. Whether that’s by supervising PhD's or using examples in journal articles, my final aim is to move this knowledge from the edge into the centre.”