Since the backlash over Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas cancelling Don Brash’s speech to the Politics Society, Massey University has tried to claim it had nothing to do with his views, and it was purely because of concerns over security.
Documents released under the OIA show this to be a blatant lie.
On the 9th of July at 10.37 am the Massey Manawatu Politics Club informed the VC of events with Don Brash, Simon Bridges and Chris Bishop. She was invited to attend as an observer. The invite said the structure is informal, more a one to one chat over the experiences and future aspirations of the politicians.
That same day at 4.05 pm the VC’s assistant tells the VC she isn’t free on any of those dates/times.
Jan Thomas replied:
She labels Brash as racist and asks what restrictions they have to stop him. She regards using university facilities as being tactic endorsement of his views (which is ridiculous) and states that a te tiriti led university can’t be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours.
She asks for advise on what they can do to manage or minimise.
The next day she again e-mails:
Here she asks for options on now allowing the event on campus. Again she labels Brash racist (for opposing race based seats!) and says she wants to cut it off at the pass somehow.
She ironically worries about media coverage if they ban Brash, which she did.
On the 11th of July a staffer says there are no grounds to say no:
So the staffer tells the VC that there are no grounds to decline the event and doing so would be seen as restricting free speech. She knew this and did it anyway!
The VC responds:
Here the VC ask for mechanisms that can be used to stop the event such as financial agreements with clubs and societies.
We also get an insight into their views in this e-mail from a staffer:
So this staffer thinks free speech is just a shield used by “colonial racists” and “conservative commentators”. Hunt that fascists down. They must be silenced.
And here we have the smoking bullet on 13 July:
Here the VC says allow Brash to speak will clash with the te Tiriti led ambition and affect their Maori colleagues. She asks if funding can be used to pressure the student associations. And she concludes:
She says explicitly she wants it stopped.
There is no doubt that Massey University is lying and treating us as fools when they now try and claim it was purely about security. They have become a university without integrity and without free speech.
And here she talks about refusing entry:
And all this is before any security issues were raised.
The OIA release shows that Massey University has leadership that is hostile to free speech and believes that anyone who has a view different to them on the Treaty of Waitangi has no place at Massey University.
Is this a university you want to study at?
Is this a university you want to donate money to?
Most of all the OIA release shows how dishonest they have been. It was always clear that the security concerns were a trojan horse. But these e-mails shows that the VC was determined to cancel the events weeks before any security issues were raised.
The Council of Massey University should be very concerned about the reputation of Massey.
UPDATE1: I can’t see any way out of this for Massey while the VC continues. She appears to have lied to the chair of her own academic board. This is what the academic board chair e-mailed colleagues:
Distinguished Professor Sally Morgan Chair of Academic Board Meeting with the Vice-Chancellor. In light of the public accusations that Massey University is not committed to the Principle of Free Speech, I asked to meet with the Vice-Chancellor in my capacity as Chair of Academic Board, to gain reassurances that this is not the case, and to discuss the recent controversy caused by the cancellation of the Don Brash lecture which was to be hosted by the Students Political Club. I did this because I wanted to fully understand the facts of the case and what, if any, impact it might have on the business of the Board. I was not finding the public debate and the emotional speculation on social media and in the press very helpful and needed to know more before I could happily form an opinion.
The Vice-Chancellor agreed to meet me and to answer my questions. She began by assuring me that she was committed to free speech and the notion of the University as well-informed and scholarly, Conscience and Critic of Society.
I asked the Vice-Chancellor how long she had been aware of Dr Brash’s proposed lecture before she took the decision to cancel the lease of the room to the students. She told me that she had been aware of the event for many weeks and had been invited to attend. The students had also informed her that their planned programme of talks would include politicians from all New Zealand’s major political parties.
My understanding from what Professor Thomas told me, is that she had not considered cancelling the event at any point during that period, because she had no pressing reason to do so. She did not deny that she does not agree with Dr Brash’s views, but she pointed out that she had not at any stage banned him from campus nor insisted that the students disinvite him.
Professor Thomas told me that the situation changed when she was shown a thread on social media where there was a discussion of a plan to violently disrupt the talk, making mention of bringing a gun. I can confirm that I have seen a screen-capture of the comments. A gun was indeed mentioned. It was not something that I, if I found myself in her position, would be able to take lightly. The Vice-Chancellor told me that, in the light of the concern for the physical well-being of the community, her office arranged a meeting with the Police. The Police were not able to respond as quickly as the Vice-Chancellor had hoped and so she took the decision to cancel the lease on the room in order to ensure the safety of students and staff, and indeed Dr Brash himself. At the end of my discussion with the Vice-Chancellor I felt reassured that the Brash talk was cancelled for legitimate safety reasons, not as a deliberate suppression of free speech, and Professor Thomas’s decisions were made with integrity, based on the information she had to hand at the time. I came away thinking that Professor Thomas did not find herself in an easy situation, and that her decision was not an unequivocal assault on free speech as it has been characterised. I felt that the worst that might be levelled at her was that she had been over-cautious in the face of threats of violence. This seems to me to be an operational matter, not an academic one.
The parts in bold are clearly shown to be false by the e-mails released under the OIA. The Vice-Chancellor has lied to the Chair of Massey’s own Academic Board. She said she had not considered cancelling the event at any point during that period when in fact she started to look at ways to cancel it within hours of being told about it.