20 Sep 2018

Student leader fears 'silencing effect'

12:20 pm on 20 September 2018

A student leader is calling on Massey University and its vice-chancellor to make it clear they support the independence of student associations, following the Don Brash cancellation.

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas and Don Brash

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas and former National Party leader Don Brash Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Massey's student politics club invited the former National Party leader and Reserve Bank governor to speak but the talk was cancelled by vice-chancellor Jan Thomas on security grounds.

However emails between university staff and Prof Thomas showed her concern was what she called ""racist behaviour of Dr Brash" on Māori issues. In one email she said said did not want a "te tiriti-led university to be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours".

Another raised the possibility of funding cuts to the students' association as Prof Thomas looked for ways to stop Dr Brash speaking.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations president Jonathan Gee said associations should not be in fear of retribution.

"Students assocations, not just at Massey but across the country, are really concerned around the silencing effect that she's suggested here and whether other vice-chancellors might follow suit, he told Morning Report.

NZUSA  President Jonathan Gee

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations president Jonathan Gee Photo: RNZ

"This is the purest example of this concern that students' associations have, that there's this fear of biting the hand that feeds us.

"These universities fund us to provide services and advocacy for students and from this there's this concern that we can't speak out."

Mr Gee said the Massey University council and the vice-chancellor should clarify their stance.

"We want them to be clear around the fact that they support independent student voice and ...while they fund us that there might be times when we might critique them on issues such as this."

Massey University yesterday defended its reasons for cancelling Dr Brash's speech on campus, saying concerns about the security threat were genuine.

In a written statement, the university said Prof Thomas "held concerns because of the upset that a previous visit by Hobson's Pledge representatives to campus had caused but had been prepared to let it go ahead".

It said when a security threat was raised, Prof Thomas decided to cancel the booking.

The university's academic board has moved two censure motions against Prof Thomas over her handling of the incident and Dr Brash called on her to step down.

The Massey University Students Association said it had no confidence in the vice chancellor. The students' politics club that organised Dr Brash's speaking event plans to again try to hold the event on campus.