Richard Hume

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Opinion

Last week I read that Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles are bringing a legal complaint against Auckland University (their employer) for not adequately protecting them from the mob response to views they have expressed. 

Case for Sympathy: They Are Victims of Their Conscience.

The cornerstone of a free society is that all people should be able to express views that they hold in good faith without fear of reprisal (unless they are defamatory), even if those views are highly contentious. 

While I see Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles as part of the crowd that always wants to lock us up irrespective of the cost (by cost I don’t just mean financial but our overall well being), they should not be punished for putting themselves out there and expressing their good faith views.

Also, the nature of the abuse that they have encountered sounds as though it is targeted at them personally, rather than being a critique of the views they are putting out. No one deserves that.

Case for Condemnation: What Goes around Comes Around.

A few months ago, the Ministry of Education reformulated the science curriculum in schools so that:

  • indigenous knowledge is given equivalency of focus to western science within the science course
  • there is a component of the science course spent analysing how western science is part of colonialism.

A group of academics opposed those changes to the curriculum along the following lines:

  • Science is about the pursuit of truth using a particular way of thinking (you observe, you form a hypothesis bsased on your observation, you then test your hypothesis by experimenting and collecting data). This is not in itself colonialism
  • Indigenous knowledge is not science because science is defined by a particular way of thinking, which indigenous knowledge does not exclusively follow. This wasn’t supposed to suggest that there was anything wrong with studying indigenous knowledge, just that it is a separate subject from science.

The careers of the scientists who expressed the views set out above were threatened by a lynch mob of academics who not only disagreed with their views but ended up having them investigated for ‘poor character’. The academic lynch mob included Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles. 

So the question is this: if Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles are happy to participate in destroying other people over the views that they honestly hold, why should they be protected when the world does it back to them?

(To be clear, I don’t have a view either way on how the school science curriculum should approach the topic of indigenous knowledge. However, I strongly believe that you are more likely to arrive at a correct answer to that question if you facilitate good-faith debate from both sides of the table, rather than endorsing a culture in which all non-right thinking views are suppressed.)

What is Auckland University’s role in all of this?  

There are a lot of academics at Auckland University who do not throw themselves into the public limelight in quite the way that Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles have.

Therefore a lot of the legal debate will be around whether the public commentary for which they have received backlash was a true part of their employment or whether the profile and attention that Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles have achieved (and which they have substantially benefitted from) was something that they courted by their own choice and which went above and beyond the requirements of their academic roles.

At a practical level, I am also curious as to what Auckland University can reasonably be expected to do to protect academics who choose to thrust themselves into the public domain.

My Thoughts  

Even though I don’t hold the same views politically as Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles, I think that the world is improved by facilitating informed people being able to express their views safely and with respect from others, so I would see them continue.

However, I do not think that this should only be for those that express mainstream endorsed views. We should be tolerant toward the expression of a full spectrum of views. This also includes the views of those whom Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles helped destroy. 

Do you agree?

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