Media Release: Massey release whitewash report

This afternoon Massey University released a report it commissioned from Martin Jenkins titled Cancellation of venue for Dr Brash speaking event: Independent report for the Massey University Council on lessons from this episode.

You can read the report here.

We had a heads-up that the report was coming, but had been told to expect something that cleared Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas.  Instead, as we read the report, it became clear that it is not only an attempted whitewash, its errors, omissions, and approach reflect precisely what is wrong with Massey University.

Rather than considering whether the decision to ban Dr Brash was the right one, or elucidate why free speech at a university is important, it focuses on strengthening policies to prevent people feeling “culturally unsafe” and makes recommendations to ensure the University's decisions are consistent with its desire to be 'Treaty-led'.

Rather than discussing why the University should stand up to the thugs and disruptors to ensure students can hear controversial ideas, it focuses at how communication and media was managed following the Official Information Act requests by the Free Speech Coalition. It recommends more PR and media management!

In short, we think Massey stakeholders should be embarrassed – it suggests the university has lost its way.  We have only had the report a few hours, but even a casual readthrough is enough to identify numerous factual errors and omissions.  It has clearly been commissioned by the University in an attempt to protect Prof Thomas from having to step down as a result of her decision to ban Dr Brash from campus.  We don’t think it will work.

Here is Dr David Cumin media release on behalf of the Free Speech Coalition:


Media release

Martin Jenkins' report for Massey University Council a “shonky whitewash”

19 December 2018

If the Martin Jenkins' report released today by Massey University is reflective of the quality of thinking at the University, it is little wonder donations and student enrolments to the institution are declining, says the Free Speech Coalition.

“We’ve only just received the report, but can immediately identify inaccuracies which call the whole thing into question,” says Dr David Cumin, a spokesman for the group.

“The report makes the Vice Chancellor’s position even more untenable by confirming that, despite her public comments, there was no real Police consultation or threat assessment prior to her decision to deplatform Dr Don Brash earlier in the year."

"The report confirms that Prof. Thomas was ‘uncomfortable’ with Dr Brash’s views, that the University was worried about people feeling ‘culturally unsafe’, and that Prof. Thomas wanted to use conditions of funding from the University to student clubs and societies to censor who they can invite to speak on campus."

"However, in a bizarre conclusion that seems to ignore those facts and emails released under the Official Information Act where Prof Thomas asked staff to find 'any mechanisms' to disallow the event, the report found Prof Thomas 'did not intend to prevent the event from taking place on campus'."

“Furthermore, Dr Brash, despite being the subject of the report, was never interviewed or consulted with as part of the investigation. To say the least, that is puzzling.”

“Nor did the report’s authors bother to talk to our group. Perhaps that is why there was a factual error in reference to our work. The report claims that we have abandoned our litigation against Auckland Council and Mayor Phil Goff. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trial is set down for next year, and is publicly available information.”

“The whole report is based on the premise that the University’s desire to be Tiriti-led, trumps considerations of free speech. It claims that academic freedom does not count as technically Dr Brash is not an academic and makes no recommendation that would suggest free speech must be rigorously defended on a university campus. Instead of enhancing Massey’s reputation as a bastion for sound debate, it continues to make the whole institution look pathetic.”

“Instead of explaining that a University’s role as a critic of society sometimes requires taking risks or offending, the report regards the real failing as one of media management and public relations.”

“The report confirmed that the Massey Foundation is losing donors, and prospective students and staff have rejected the university because of its failure to defend free speech. But its main recommendation is increasing the spending on specialist PR and media advice to mitigate fallout from future deplatforming rather than considering what everyone objects to and seeking steps to promote robust debate. You couldn’t make this stuff up. It makes a farce of the value of a university degree from Massey University.” 

“The immediate irony in this report is that it does further damage to the University’s reputation. Instead of an intellectually honest fact-finding mission, it is an exercise in corporate risk management and a shonky whitewash of a clear stifling of free speech. It highlights precisely why donors, students, and academics are shunning Massey University and its leadership."