Massey creates 'safe spaces', protects feelings not speech

Tue, 12 Nov, 2019

“Massey University’s new free speech policy shows it is more concerned with protecting the feelings of a small number of students and creating safe spaces for them than it is with defending a central pillar of Western civilisation”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas yesterday released a Policy on Academic Freedom, Free Speech and Freedom of Expression and an External Speaker Code of Practice.

“The Policy does a good job of explaining the role of the university in society and the importance of freedom of expression and academic freedom. But, ultimately, it is just lip service.

“The Code says that, when deciding whether a controversial speaker is to be allowed on campus, the University will have to consider ‘possible risks’ which include ‘mental harm to students’.

“Mental harm is deeply subjective and will allow small, vocal groups to block an event from taking place by claiming that they are likely to be psychologically hurt by the mere presence of a speaker on campus.

“Mental harm should never be used by an important public institution as a reason to prevent free exchange from taking place.

“The Policy gives Massey a trump card: ‘The University…retains the right to refuse permission for invited speakers to speak on campus when their remarks…make no meaningful contribution to scholarly activity.’

“Why should Jan Thomas decide what a meaningful contribution is? What students find to be a useful contribution to their university experience might differ substantially from what woke university administrators believe they should hear.

“If it cannot find any other reason to block a speaker, Massey can simply say they are not making a meaningful contribution and veto the event.

“Massey also codifies safe spaces by providing ‘an environment, spaces, opportunities and platforms where all voices can be heard, including the opportunity for those who may feel attacked or marginalised to reply’ and ‘support to students who are excluded from conversations advanced by defenders of ‘free speech’, those who are not accustomed to debating ideas in an orthodox Western fashion, and those who have less power than people with access to public platforms.’

“Massey has been rightly condemned for its recent approach to freedom of expression. These new documents provide no reason to believe that approach will change.

“Freedom of expression is half about what the law says and half about how important public institutions like universities behave.

“Massey continues to fail the free speech test.”