24 Jun 2019

Auckland university staff 'silenced' over complaints about student with far-right views

6:02 am on 24 June 2019

Staff at the University of Auckland say they were silenced by senior management after raising concerns about a student with extreme far-right views just days after the Christchurch terror attack.

Auckland, New Zealand - March 1, 2017: Sign and logo of University of Auckland set near modern dark gray offices in green park like environment. Gray sky.

Photo: Claudine van Massenhove

A staff member told RNZ the student, who has since left the university, sent threatening emails to staff and interrupted a tutorial to express his extreme views on immigration and colonization.

RNZ has agreed to not identify the staff or student involved to protect their identities.

Dozens of Auckland University students have expressed fears of what they describe as a growing and emboldened white supremacist movement on campus following the terror attack. But the member of staff said extreme views were creeping into lecture theatres too.

"We were talking about white supremacy I guess and I had asked the students to watch this video of the dawn raids and to think about the different ways white supremacy plays out.

"A white Pākehā male got really triggered by this and ... had this really emotional outburst where he was throwing his arms up and raising his voice, and saying things like "Māori have no right to the land here" and he doesn't believe in the Treaty of Waitangi."

The staff member, who is Indian, described the outburst on 20 March as a "horrible ordeal."

Some students encouraged him and chimed in with their own racist remarks, she said.

"Other students were just kind of looking at each other and just like shaking and looking ... tearful and really emotional in response to what he was doing. They were quite visibly shaken up."

The employee noticed students stopped showing up to class after the outburst because they did not feel safe.

Not long after the lecture, she received an email from the same student.

"He had messaged me one or two hours after the tutorial [and said] that he wasn't in fact taking over the discussion, which he said I had accused him of in the tutorial. He just said that he had said something controversial and then other students criticised him, and he wanted to defend himself, but accused me of trying to silence him."

The three paragraph email then went on to detail the student's views on immigration and the Islamic faith. He called for the Treaty of Waitangi to be "nullified" and said the only thing Aboriginal people have to show after 30,000 years was a boomerang.

Other University staff members have received messages of a similar nature from the same student.

"When I made a complaint about this, I found out that the same student had sent two other quite threatening, discriminatory emails to two other staff members and one was really, really misogynistic and the other was super transphobic."

They took the emails to a senior manager, but were told to stay silent and were not told why.

"When the complaint was made, staff were told that they weren't allowed to talk about each of the different complaints that had been made to each other and silenced."

Over three weeks, management investigated the emails. The student was later asked to apologise to staff members and was given a list of behavioural requirements to follow, in order to keep his place at the university.

But the staff member said that was not good enough and the university does not take the issue seriously.

"I feel like the university has not kind-of met its obligation to keep its students and staff safe from racism, and from white supremacy."

This was one of seven similar student conduct complaints investigated by the University of Auckland since the start of 2016.

Enzo Giordani, the Tertiary Education Union organiser at the university, said staff being silenced was not new.

"It's a widespread problem that we've had with the University of Auckland over the last couple of years, that staff have been silenced over a number of things, including restructuring and reviews, but this is another step up again. We think at a university everybody should be free to speak out. It's a public institution."

In a statement, a University of Auckland spokesperson said staff were not silenced, but were required to respect the confidentiality of the investigation process.

They said this is standard practice as people who are complained about have rights too.

"Staff and students associated with the student's courses were kept informed of progress along the way (at least two meetings/updates before final determination was made). Factors beyond our control drew things out, including illness of the student."

The spokesperson said they would expect staff or students who want to complain about how matters are handled to direct them to the vice-chancellor not to the media.

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