In an opinion piece on Stuff by a Massey University Senior Lecturer, Dr. Steve Elers, the reader is given a very strong impression that the decision to remove the Hong Kong protest posters was financially motivated.

“So, the question becomes: Are we prepared to risk our fourth largest export earner, $5b and 50,000 jobs, for the sake of “free speech” in the form of posters?”

Stuff

While the answer to that question from any freedom-loving, patriotic upholder of New Zealand democracy would be a “HELL YEAH!” Dr Elers takes a different view.

Dr Elers makes the argument that Massey University needs to take “economic considerations” into account. He refers of course to the $84.1 million dollars they get in international fees for their 5,331 international students, 3,722 of who come from China.

Eler’s honesty is surprising, but the fact that he feels so comfortable admitting that at Massey, students’ human rights are for sale to the highest bidder, is SHOCKING!

The Free Speech Coalition has issued a statement asking Massey University to confirm whether financial factors played a part in their decision to remove posters highlighting the protests in Hong Kong.

“Is the author correct in his suggestion that Massey weighs free speech values against the financial value of international students? If so, how far is Massey willing to bend? Would Massey scrub its syllabus of politically sensitive lines of inquiry? Does the University have any principled bottom line when it comes to protecting the diversity of thought and opinion on campus? Prospective students deserve to know the answers to these questions.”

Free speech on campus should be non-negotiable: a university’s position as critic and conscience of society should not be up for auction. If this really is a factor in Massey’s decision to tear down the posters what other forms of speech will it stifle to meet the bottom line? Is the truth of Tiananmen Square up for grabs too?

[…] Last week, we were informed that Massey is drafting a policy on free speech in order to prove to their detractors that they take their obligations as educators seriously. The Free Speech Coalition offered Massey help in the drafting but we question why so much time is needed to write it. The University of Chicago’s policy is a shining template and has been adapted by many of the world’s leading academic institutions.

An excerpt:

“Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn . . . . [I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” 

While we hope that Massey’s statement mirrors the University of Chicago’s attitude to free speech and to protect its educators and students from undue and illiberal pressure from international sources, no one is holding their breath. That’s why keep up our efforts to “teach Massey” and stop other New Zealand campaigns from going down Massey’s path.

Dr David Cumin
Spokesperson
Free Speech Coalition