THE HAPS

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DEGREES FOR EVERYONE

Twenty years ago Bob Jones published a book called Degrees for Everyone. The book is a biting satire of universities, where all ideas have equal merit. One department decides cannibalism is a valid cultural practice that’s not for them to judge, and get eaten for their misjudgement.

At the time it was entertainment, not something to worry about. New Zealand universities were proudly melting pots of ideas. Campuses were fun, student magazines competed to shock with their exercise of free speech. The people who went on endlessly about Israel and Palestine were a bit annoying but also just weirdos.

We’re not aware of any cannibalism on campus, but it’s starting to feel like Jones had a point. Victoria University cancelling a free speech event goes beyond satire. The University Vice Chancellor had decided to host a debate about free speech with three university academics, a fourth from the New Zealand Initiative, and a fifth speaker from the Free Speech Union.

This was too much for students, according to a student politician who is quoted saying students “freaked out” when they heard there might be “right wing voices” on campus.

The student politician goes on to say they’re happy the event was postponed and reformatted. “That’s 100% the right thing to do in this scenario, when you make a mistake, to say actually we realise we made a mistake and we’re going to try and fix it.” Unfortunately no journalist we know of has asked what the “mistake” was.

The only hint is a further quote about the event being rescheduled. “Hopefully, those conversations will mean that the event is inclusive and doesn't make people feel unsafe in any way.” So you can’t have an event if it might make anyone feel “unsafe,” in any way. If anyone’s confused at this point, there is no physical danger; (quite expert) people were planning to talk, at a university, that’s all.

At this point you have to spare a thought for young person with “right wing views.” What sort of action is justified to protect your safety against someone else’s ideas? This crazy cancellation is one event the rest of New Zealand sees, we suspect they live every day in this madcap oppressive environment where student leaders say their beliefs are a threat to others’ “safety.”

Adding to the satire, the student politician goes on Tim Beveridge’s Weekend Collective. The best we can say is that Beveridge deserves a bouquet for the careful way he handled the young person. They spun for a harrowing eleven minutes and left in a suffocating cocoon of their own contradictions. Then, it got better.

Victoria University Vice Chancellor Nic Smith phones in to Beveridge’s show as an unscheduled guest. Beveridge tries to squeeze him in before the news. Smith cuts a figure of an embattled leader hemmed in by the forces of cocooned, irrational, and mad students. In plaintive cri de coeur he said he wanted to say he agreed with free speech. Good on him but, as the leader of a major organization who’s paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars, he left the audience no wiser about what he was going to do, or why he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell the students that if they weren’t ready to hear different ideas they might not be ready for university after all. No clearer post-interview.

Where to from here? The taxpayer cannot continue to shell out tens of thousands of dollars per year per student so they can actively avoid being exposed to new ideas. But where to start? Many of the lecturers were themselves students only a decade ago, so the culture is rapidly reinforcing itself.

Some will say, who cares about universities, let’s get back to focusing on the real people. The problem is campus culture spills through into the workplace, the rest of the education system, the public service, the judiciary, and so on. Campus culture is the future of our culture, so while you’re paying the tab you might as well have a say.

That is exactly why ACT’s coalition agreement with National and New Zealand First contains the following commitment: Amend the Education Act so that tertiary institutions receiving taxpayer money must have a free speech policy.

It’s a commitment that can’t come soon enough. We don’t want to prove Bob Jones right by western culture eating itself from the inside out.

That's it for this week, be sure to stay tuned next Monday

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