Massey vice chancellor Jan Thomas tries to explain Brash ban

After controversially barred Don Brash yesterday from speaking by cancelling a student political society event at Massey University, vice Chancellor Jan Thomas tried to explain this in an interview on Newstalk ZB.

Massey University defends barring Don Brash

Larry Williams: What were the reasons for cancelling?

Jan Thomas: The reason we cancelled was because the students who had booked the venue and had agreed to terms of use had come to us and identified their concerns around their ability to maintain security at the event, and so on the basis of that we took another look at things and based on some things we were observing on social media I became concerned that there was a genuine threat to the safety of our staff and students and members of the public.

And so unfortunately it’s a really tough decision and I don’t like making these decisions but based on the safety of our community I chose to cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Was this more about your personal views though, you don’t like Dr Brash?

Jan Thomas: Ah, I made the decision on the basis of the safety of our staff. In fact the venue had been booked um for some time and the students association, the politics society, had done a terrific job of setting up a programme of speakers who were going to be discussing their particular perspectives on politics. That of course is the mandate of the student association and I supported that and that had all gone through the normal processes.

So he would have spoken along with other current and future leaders of ah the National Party in a sequence of talks past current and future, ah and ah I think that was, these are precisely the sorts of things that should and do happen on university campuses, and it wasn’t until we became aware of ah concerns around security ah that I made a really difficult decision to cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Yes but you’ve also referenced Dr Brash as a hate speaker, with respect.

Jan Thomas: Ah, I don’t think um that I have referenced that as bluntly as that. What I have said was that ah there was an event held in ah the Manawatu here on our campus, ah from ah Hobson’s Pledge ah which ah was particularly offensive for ah particularly our Maori staff, and ah that is not the sort of thing that I would like to see at a university campus. Um that wasn’t ah Dr Brash speaking, um it was around ah Hobson’s Pledge that particular time.

So those sorts of events are events ah where the discussion um moves from being one ah of talking about ah the issues and evidence based ah good rational debate where people are able to speak about um their perspectives on a whole range of different things.

Larry Williams: yes but you’re shutting that down aren’t you? Ah you know being against race based seats on a council is not akin to hate speech.

Jan Thomas: Ah no um and that is indeed a personal political perspective that I have no question, no problem with…

Larry Williams: It’s called democracy.

Jan Thomas: What I do object to is where um speech that demeans or humiliates or silences groups of people based on a common trait. Ah in other words playing the man and not the ball, ah is ah is something that we don’t accept on a university campus, that everyone should feel that they can express their views in a way that is not um going to be subject to being demeaned or humiliated.

Larry Williams: Well everybody except Don Brash.

Jan Thomas: Um ah well as I said we cancelled this event on the basis of security, ah security concerns um and ah it wouldn’t matter who was speaking. If I have concerns over the safety of our community I would consider ah cancelling events as well because I cannot put at risk ah my staff, students and ah members of the community.

Larry Williams: So who were the threats coming from, where were the threats, what were the threats?

Jan Thomas: Ah well the threats were um coming from um you know a discussion that was happening in social media channels, um and I I do want to say that um I think for universities ah we do have to be particularly careful about these things. There have been some really horrible events happening on university campuses around the world violent things, ah and I we never see that in New Zealand, ah however um I and so I’m very watchful for anything that might ah put at risk our ah safety on campus…

Larry Williams: If it’s threats and it’s violence you’re concerned about, you you you have cowered to the threats, haven’t you. What about the police? Did you call the police in?

Jan Thomas: Um well our um staff are in contact with the police. That’s true. And I guess that was part of the difficult decision, do you completely um ah ah a-a-ah you know ramp up ah significant ah security or do you not. And these are some of the things that we thought about  and talked about and I made the decision that I would cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Yes but it’s hard to come to the conclusion that you cancelled this on security grounds, I mean you also referenced Brash’s support for the Canadians Southern and Molyneux, ah all his support was that he supports free speech along with a raft of other academics both right and left. He didn’t support their views, he supports free speech.

Jan Thomas: Sure.

Larry Williams: But you referenced that as well.

Jan Thomas: Um[or ‘and’]

Larry Williams: You referenced the Canadians as well.

Jan Thomas: Mhm.

Larry Williams: Meaning that the possibility here is the real reason for cancelling this is because you don’t like Dr Brash and what he stands for, what he says.

Jan Thomas: Well we cancelled the event on the basis of our concerns for security. I guess um ah ah um we also have a view that ah hate speech is not acceptable on campus, and I think what you’re doing here is linking those two things quite quite clearly, and um ah you know I do stand by my ah perspectives that hate speech is not welcome on campus, um, and neither is ah ah when there are concerns about security of our community. I will um act in the best interests of our broader community.

Larry Williams: Well again who said Dr Brash was going to be involved in hate speech, where I mean where are the examples of the hate speech?

Jan Thomas: Ah well I I am quite sure that Dr Brash would have done what he was invited to speak on and that was his experience as his leader of the National Party, um and…

Larry Williams: Exactly.

Jan Thomas: Yeh.

Larry Williams: You see this is the university’s politics society. Brash is a former opposi…this is what you do. political views. You debate them.

Jan Thomas: I agree. And as I said, this is the mandate of the students’ politics society, entirely appropriate. And the students’ society has acted in exactly the right way, doing doing having these sorts of events ah to raise awareness of different political spectrum…

Larry Williams: Yeah I mean universities are meant to be the bastion of free speech, vice chancellor.

Jan Thomas: And we support free speech, ah but when it um it leans into hate speech where people are being ah damaged as a result of am…

Larry Williams: What do you mean damaged? I mean previously you’ve said at that um free speech is being a tool of colonialism and must be restricted. Where is the hate coming in all of this?

Jan Thomas:  …uuuum, so I I I feel we’re blurring the issues here, that there is ah we cancelled this event because of security concerns. I also am quite happy to stand behind my comments that hate speech is not welcome on campus, and the way I would consider hate speech is ah when hate speech might demean or humiliate or silence groups of people based on a common trait, whether it be sexuality or religion or race or whatever, um because ah that is essentially ah the same as bullying of a larger group of people, and we don’t tolerate  bullying in the playground do we…

Larry Williams: Yeah well ok there’s no evidence that Dr Brash was bullying anybody. I mean even the Prime Minister is saying this is an overreaction. What’s your take on that?

Jan Thomas: Ah yes and I’ve heard her say that and um that is her view but as the um vice chancellor of this university I made a decision, ah on the basis of the safety for my ah the community that ah come onto this campus, and I take that responsibility very very seriously.