Is there freedom of speech at Auckland University?

July 17th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Prolife NZ has said:

Prolife New Zealand (PLNZ) is alarmed at the fact that Auckland student club, Prolife Auckland, is this week facing the possibility of disaffiliation simply for engaging in an act of freedom of expression at the Auckland University campus. …

In May this year Auckland University student club ProLife Auckland, in a peaceful and non-confrontational manner, distributed a one-page leaflet titled ‘Right to Know’.

The pamphlet advocated for the right of women to know the common health risks associated with abortion and the alternatives available to them, so that they can make truly informed decisions when faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. The campaign pamphlet was distributed by PLNZ clubs at universities across New Zealand and contained a link to a webpage with further information and resources.

On the basis of one single anonymous, unsubstantiated email allegation, claiming that the pamphlets contained ‘misleading health information’ and ‘lies about health procedures’, the AUSA called a Special General Meeting (SGM) to disaffiliate student club Prolife Auckland.

Not only was this allegation never properly investigated by the AUSA, and the AUSA deliberations regarding this matter conducted in secrecy, but Prolife Auckland were never even informed that an SGM had been called to disaffiliate them – they found this out by sheer chance a week after the decision had been made by the AUSA.

More importantly, the claims of ‘misleading health information’ still remain completely unproven, in fact the medical statements in the pamphlet are supported by reference footnotes to a number of reputable medical journals.

Since Prolife Auckland’s inception it has come up against unwarranted resistance and intimidation at the University of Auckland. This is in contrast to PLNZ’s other branches at Victoria, Canterbury and Massey University in Palmerston North, which have been permitted to peaceably contribute to the free exchange of ideas on campus without fear of reprisal – the cornerstone of academic freedom.

This attempt to ban ProLife Auckland and the complete disregard for natural justice in this case, only serves to further highlight the prejudice of an intolerant minority against the affiliation of pro-life clubs at the University of Auckland. Most alarmingly, it shows that certain members of the AUSA Executive are willing to deny students their human right to freedom of expression simply for peacefully expressing themselves on campus.

I am pro-choice, not pro-life (to use their term). If I was on campus and someone handed me a flyer informing me of the health risks of abortion, I would probably politely suggest they should procreate with themselves.

However I absolutely defend their right to not just hold their views, but to promote them. On a university campus especially, freedom of speech should be the paramount value.

AUSA should not be deciding if the pamphlets have “misleading health information” any more than they should decide if political party pamphlets are misleading. Would they disaffiliate (for example) Princes Street Labour if someone complained about one of their pamphlets. If material is misleading, there are a number of regulatory bodies that can be complained to. It is not a decision for a small group of student politicians.

I would comment to all AUSA members the words of Noam Chomsky:

“with regard to freedom of speech there are basically two positions: you defend it vigorously for views you hate, or you reject it and prefer Stalinist/fascist standards”

I hope that all those who disagree with the views of ProlifeNZ still defend their right to express their views and be able to operate on campus as an affiliated club.

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