Jarrod Gilbert on Massey University

writes in the NZ Herald:

Massey has recently made an interesting decision. Instead of being a university, it has decided to be a joke. …

Thomas’ emails show that she is no fan of “racist” Brash and as soon as she heard he was coming she began plotting how to cancel the event.

One of her ideas was to restrict funding to the students’ association. In itself that is utterly extraordinary. It’s also a pretty creative playbook for somebody claiming to have given no mind to cancelling the event.

Her desire to use the funding of student associations and clubs to prevent them from hosting speakers she disagrees with has led to MUSA declaring it has no confidence in her and NZUSA condemning her. Even NZUSA have a greater commitment to that the Massey Vice-Chancellor, saying:

‘We should be able to have robust debate on campus with people we disagree with, including our university leaders. But to consider cutting funding to a group that disagrees with your actions is just foul play,’ says National President Jonathan Gee.

‘While we do not agree with Don Brash’s views on race and many other issues, we support the right to free speech. As the critic and conscience of society, universities should be the bastions of that, not undermine it,’ says Students’ Association (MUSA) President Ngahuia Kirton.

Bravo MUSA and NZUSA. Back to Gilbert:

But even if Brash’s talk was more controversial, he should have been allowed.

At his worst, Don Brash is not a direct threat to order or to individuals. At his worst he’s mild compared to Australian politicians, not as extreme as some of our own, and a gentleman compared to the US President. If Brash is where we draw the line on free speech at a university, it’s a precedent that will exclude swathes of people.

This is a key aspect. The culture wars in the US have tended to be over speakers who are intentionally provocative such as Milo and Ann Coulter. Don Brash is a million miles away from them in terms of rhetoric.

Winston Peters have said far more inflammatory things than Don Brash ever has. Will Massey ban the Deputy Prime Minister from speaking?

Massey is free, of course, to allow their VC to be the arbiter of who students and staff are allowed to listen to, but let’s be clear they will not be a university.

They will be a chamber of propaganda run by the tastes of whoever is in charge. That idea used to be an anathema to liberal thinking, yet for many – including many who should know better – it is becoming a comfortable default. We know what’s best for everyone is as pompous as it is dangerous.

Sadly the Massey Council seem to regard their role as governors to be to back their chief executive regardless of the damage it does to Massey.

Make no bones about it, none of the above means having to agree with or like Don Brash. Nor is it an attack on Thomas’ commitment to Māori. Nothing I have said is mutually exclusive to those issues. It isn’t one or the other.

If you have a firm view on Brash then battle with ideas or express yourself in protest. These are the weapons of a university.

I call on my Māori academic colleagues to speak out. To assure people that kaupapa principles and Māori partnerships with education institutions don’t mean that free speech is stifled, that race relations issues can’t be debated, or that we can only hear from people who hold certain views.

Because, if this is the case, partnerships with Māori are much less likely to occur.

If being a Treaty led university means that no one on campus is allowed to have a differing view on the Treaty of Waitangi, I can’t see other universities rushing in to do the same.

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