In this post I share my communications to and from Jan Thomas (Vice Chancellor at Massey University) and her “corporate communications director” [sic] James Gardiner. In these exchanges I sought clarity around the banning of Don Brash at a political event scheduled at a student run venue in August. I was specific, seeking to know if the decision was entirely security related or (as suggested by many at the time) a political one. My conclusion is that Jan’s response was designed to deceive. Massey University lied.
Don Brash was the Governor of the NZ Reserve Bank for fourteen years. He entered politics and led the NZ National Party for a while but failed to win Prime Ministership – the political world can be brutal – his polarising approach didn’t win him huge or lasting popularity. He is though an erudite, lucid speaker with a high intellect and a conservative leaning.
Following publicity surrounding various speakers in New Zealand and banning of a council venue for controversial speakers’ use by Auckland mayor (Phil Goff) a group called the Free Speech Coalition gained traction. Don Brash is one of those connected to the FSC, along with other high-profile people from different sectors of the political divide.
In early August 2018, Vice Chencellor of Massey University Jan Thomas cancelled a student political meeting in which Don Brash was scheduled to speak, citing security concerns. Commentary at the time indicated that Massey University had prevented Brash from speaking for political reasons and was in some sectors quite critical about her decision.
I sought clarification a couple of days later, after I though that the public pressure was easing off. I emailed the VC; received a personal response confirming the reason was due to security concerns; engaged by phone with Massey’s communications guru with follow-ups and received clarification.
David Farrar’s recent analysis of some of the OIA data received indicates that these events came following a concerted effort by Jan Thomas to find ways to prevent Dr Brash speaking, actually a long time prior to any security concerns. Security concerns appear to be a smoke-screen, opportunism at the very least and/or most likely deception – which is usually deliberate.
I first slipped Jan an email on 9th August 2018 saying:
Banning of Don Brash
Dennis A Smith <***@gmail.com> Thu 9 Aug, 10:05 to J.B.Thomas
I am sorry to hear of your recent decision to ban Don Brash from
speaking at Massey. I am a licensed private investigative blogger,
white-59 yo male, a non denominational conservative Christian, with
probably opposing views on many issues to yourself.
Thank you though for motivating me to research and dig into your role
at Massey and this decision which I find to be interesting and
Please copy me into any formal reply from either yourself or your
employer to public comment so that I may understand your position
correctly. Thank you
Her reply essentially said that she was concerned about security [Original PDF]. There was no reference to any ideological value mentioned. Some quotes:
To be clear, I did not ban Dr Brash, I did however cancel a venue booking . . .
My primary concern in deciding about events . . . [is] safety . . .
I asked for the opportunity for clarification from Jan’s secretary:
Dennis A Smith <***@gmail.com> 17 Aug 2018, 19:28 to B.A.Kavanagh-Dee
Thanks for this
Can you call me please – just with a couple of followup questions
I then received a phone call from Massey’s James Gardiner and I explained my desire to ‘get to the bottom of it once and for all’ and sought clarification again. I entered into a second email exchange with Massey Universities “corporate communications director” [sic]:
JG: Gardiner, James ***@massey.ac.nz via masseyuni.onmicrosoft.com 20 Aug 2018, 09:19 to email@example.com
Dear Mr Smith,
Thank you for your time on the phone this morning. In response to your follow-up question, which I noted as “was the decision non-political and was it entirely a security issue?”, safety and security of students, staff and the public was the Vice-Chancellor’s primary concern, as she states in her letter to you dated August 17. As you can see from the statement issued at the time, there was contextualising information provided in that statement, which was taken into account as to why the perceived threat was taken seriously and acted upon at the time.
corporate communications director
+64 6 951 6255
+64 21 275 3394
(Internal: ext 83255; PN212)
Private Bag 11 222 Manawatu Mail Centre
DS: Dennis A Smith
20 Aug 2018, 09:49 to James
Yes, I saw that but you have not actually answered the key specific question.
As I explained on the phone, the question I have relates to commentary that Jan and/or Massey had a political bias.
When you say, “the Vice-Chancellor’s primary concern” was ‘security’ this does not preclude a political component, and I would expect a binary situation to exist if you/she had said “the Vice-Chancellor’s ONLY concern” was ‘security’.
I wish to understand the true situation please, specifically Massey’s decision-making in regards to an arguably divisive politician. If Massey (and Jan) made the decision with NO regard to the speaker’s identity or message, this means that the commentary I have seen misrepresents Massey’s position, which will cause me to go to those commentators seeking the grounds for their claims. If OTOH there was a component of political bias (no matter how small) then this would send me in the direction of understanding Massey’s approach to contentious issues, and my follow-up questioning will follow to clarify what that bias may be and how Massey approaches things like this.
For the record, since we have not spoken before today, I am only interested in the facts. I see two stories here (one from Massey and another from commentators) and I simply want to understand the situation more fully before I write.
My work is not time-sensitive but thanks for your immediate response nonetheless.
JG: Gardiner, James ***@massey.ac.nz via masseyuni.onmicrosoft.com 20 Aug 2018, 16:41 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr Smith
Professor Thomas decided to cancel the venue booking because she was concerned about safety. She took into account all aspects of the matter, including the speaker and the recent controversy in Auckland over the Canadians, Dr Brash’s position on that, Dr Brash’s role with Hobson’s Pledge, the words and actions of Hobson’s Pledge supporters who came to Massey earlier in the year, and finally the comments made on social media including the suggestion of bringing a firearm to campus.
I am aware that many in the news media and elsewhere elected to interpret the decision as a ban on Dr Brash, and then claimed or implied that the security issue was a pretext.
This story may interest you, if you have not already seen it.
- I’m only interested in facts . . . the truth;
- I have a lot of respect for David Farrar’s commentary on this matter, but note that he also has an axe to grind in the political arena. We need to be careful knowing that partisans of any political colouring will share that which supports their cause and not those that undermine it;
- I have invited Jan Thomas and Massey University to respond here with their Right of Reply. I hope that they exercise it in the interests of completeness;
- Revelations of internal emails discussing and describing Don Brash as racist are naive, foolish & disingenuous in the extreme. I think that Don Brash’s position on equality of opportunity independent of race is very clear and that using the description ‘racist’ says a lot more about the accuser than the accused;
- The timing of the email discussions (long prior to any security issue arising) indicate an a priori agenda to prevent his speaking at Massey by Jan and others;
- Preventing a political speaker from speaking is called “deplatforming” and is a form of censorship;
- Censorship of any form, and particularly in the ideas space and even worse, from a university were the very concerns that commentary raised initially;
- Jan’s selective explanations of the reason and her repeated ignoring of her personal belief systems under constant questioning is deceptive. Even if the security issue was real (and I question if it was, given the fact that no police involvement seems to have occurred) the ideological concerns that the VC had are clearly spelled out in the emails that the Free Speech Coalition OIA request has revealed;
- The reasons for deception are obvious – Jan Thomas and others within Massey University again made this clear – a public backlash could be devastating to Massey’s reputation;
- Deception of any kind is a form of manipulation. It is a power-play. It is designed to benefit the deceiver at anothers’ expense. This concept of course comes from below, not from above.
As I have continually said and for many years,
Truth has no need for violence . . . nor is it ever in a hurry. It is bleedingly obvious to those who get off their high horses, humble themselves and engage brain.
IMHO, unless further information comes to my attention and in the interim before Massey University responds, Jan Thomas i.e. Massey University lied.
I conclude with two moderating thoughts:
- Jan says that she never banned Don Brash. Technically that may be correct – as she said, she cancelled the venue booking. The emails discovered under the OIA request however put this into proper context – same difference – and
- Safety, while clearly being used opportunistically as the reason for cancelling the event, is indeed important. Massey and Jan are right to consider it. The issue though is not that safety was a concern – it was that she had a strong agenda proven for a long time prior to this issue raising its head. Integrity would have shared her “racist” concerns up front, honestly with safety as a secondary issue and then this all would have been a non-event publicly.
Think what position Massey would be in now if they had avoided deception! “We even let that Great Satan speak at our student’s venue!” they could say forever and a day. As it is I doubt that Massey will recover from this expose – inside a generation at least!
If Jan or Massey respond I will update this post.
Thank you for swinging by today. I wish that this one would die a natural death but suspect that there is a lot of legs left to the “what on earth has happened to our universities?” investigation.