Massey University fails to learn from the Don Brash saga

Massey University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas Photoshopped image credit: Pixy

Universities are supposed to be places where free speech, robust debate and critical thinking are encouraged. Clearly that is no longer the case in many universities today. Our own prime example is Massey University, which shut down a political club event because Don Brash was due to speak there.

I mean, Don Brash, for goodness sake. He’s about as threatening and dangerous as the average teddy bear. quote.

Right from the start, Massey made clear the decision to ban Brash was not just about security. Naively, the vice-chancellor took the chance to take pot shots at Brash. 

It quickly became obvious there was basically no substance to any security threat. If the event cancellation were purely about security, the university could have reversed its decision within days and apologised.
If the politics club and university were running out of time to be sure of hosting a safe event, they could have postponed it. Instead, the institution floundered and its communications were a mess.
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. end quote.

Grant Miller, Stuff.

There you have it. Refusing to allow Don Brash to speak was never about security. Hot on the heels of the Stefan Molyneux/Lauren Southern debacle, Jan Thomas took the opportunity to shut down Don Brash. The Molyneux/Southern event had people demonstrating in the streets. Admittedly, t was all contrived by left wing groups, but there was a perceivable security issue there. No one is ever going to riot because Don Brash is speaking. It is lunacy to even imply it.

Jan Thomas’s objection to Don Brash was all based around the fact that Massey is a ‘Te Tiriti’ university, but the treaty and Brash are not mutually exclusive. She may disagree with his Hobson’s Pledge position, but he wasn’t invited there to discuss that anyway. He had been invited by the Politics Club to talk about his time as the leader of the National Party.

Why exactly she should object to Hobson’s Pledge, which advocates equality for all New Zealanders in everything, is something that escapes me too. Maori often complain that they are discriminated against. Doesn’t Hobson’s Pledge go at least some way to address that issue?

That is a discussion for another time, but in the meantime, the whole incident has done a lot of damage to the reputation of the university. Students cannot become leaders in their fields if they are not taught and encouraged to think critically. If all the universities are doing is teaching dogma, the next generation of doctors, nurses and builders will never be able to think for themselves. That is a very dangerous approach for a university to take for society as a whole.

Still, Massey’s review of the whole incident shows that they have not learnt from any of it. Free speech is a human right. Without it, our world is much poorer. A modern-day university should understand and embrace that principle above all others.