More importantly, there’s a badly battered reputation in need of repair. Massey’s self-inflicted wounds came from the university forgetting what universities are supposed to be about – robust debate, for example.The university council brought in Douglas Martin of consulting firm MartinJenkins to review the decision to cancel a politics club event where former National Party leader Don Brash had been due to speak.
The review team made many reasonable observations. The conclusion vice-chancellor Jan Thomas did not lie about her intentions was also fair.
However, Thomas had turned Massey into New Zealand’s most embarrassing university and the university council’s response was to endorse this state of affairs.
It takes some effort to beat Victoria University for the title. Vic Uni managed to alienate their graduates, students and staff in pushing for a name change that the Minister turned down. A huge vote of no confidence in the Vic Council.
But Massey managed to alienate even more people – they hit nationwide paydirt in the foolish stakes.
We may infer from council members’ quick backing of the vice-chancellor that they didn’t grasp how badly into the mire the institution had been plunged.
The council also showed its naivete by expressing the hope not talking about the controversy might avoid adding fuel to it. With advice of this calibre, Thomas has every reason to doubt the council’s usefulness as a bearer of wisdom.
If you were on the Massey University Council at the moment, would you list it on your CV?
The front cover of the final report proclaims that it will be about “lessons from this episode”. Yet there was a lesson almost impossible to miss and the reviewers missed it.
The university’s leadership failed to place sufficient value on freedom of speech and that’s one big reason why it managed the crisis so badly for so long.
Freedom of speech is important to the public. It is important to students, former students and parents of students. It should be important to universities too.
It should be of critical importance.