Melissa is a Senior lecturer (Education) at Waikato university and a Council member of the Free Speech Union.

Her article below attacking diversity quotas for maoris in our shameless universities should be seen in the light of her own part maori heritage.

When academic freedom is no longer free

 The Second Academic Freedom Report released by the Free Speech Union is a chilling read for those of us who work in universities. It uses a phrase we hear often — that universities are the “critics and conscience of society”.

In New Zealand, that (dare I say it) privilege is enshrined in section 161(2) of our Education Act. There we are told academic staff and students have the right “to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions”. We also often hear that with rights come responsibilities. Universities, it is argued, have a responsibility to society to inquire, explore, question and challenge perceived orthodoxies with a view to bettering society.

This is true, even if it means passing judgement on society. Indeed, it has to mean the freedom to pass judgement on society. What is to become of universities, then, if one of their core functions — even the very reason for their existence — is dying a slow but alarmingly real death right before our eyes?

Does it matter that academic freedom — a special type of free speech that allows universities to operate in the way they need to — is no longer free or, for some, comes at such a high price? Should we care about the increasing and often brutal pressure to toe “the party line” when it comes to a growing number of topics and we all know what those topics are — cue a wary glance over the shoulder at the mere mention of them?

For many, I imagine universities are viewed as ivory towers where a bunch of over-privileged, somewhat eccentric, socialist-type lefties pontificate amongst ourselves about Rousseau and decolonisation — each of us trying to outdo the others with the number of –ology words we can infuse our water cooler lectures with.

In other words, universities have no real connection whatsoever to the real world, right? Wrong. What happens in universities does not stay in universities.

Rather, research conducted at universities seeps out into the real world, influencing policies and practices in a range of areas that impact every one of us — like education, health, justice and the economy, to name a few.

If this research has not been conducted in an environment built on academic freedom, the claims made in the research could have a disastrous effect on society. That is why the Free Speech Union’s work on academic freedom is so important. And why the results to its survey are so troubling.

With the flow-on effects across society, academics simply have to be free to question and challenge all areas of teaching and research. This is the only way that what is put forward as truth has been through some sort of pre-release check.

For this to happen, facts have to take precedence over feelings once again, and academics have to be comfortable with confronting uncomfortable truths. In addition, the focus of academics needs to be on the pursuit of truth through research that allows orthodoxies to be challenged, not on how many pre-approved minority groups are in a research team.

I, for one, couldn’t care less what skin colour or sexual orientation the person who discovers a cure for cancer is — I just want it discovered! And for this to happen, the almost singular obsession with diversity quotas (something that is surely akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic) needs to stop, and instead engaging our best and brightest, whoever they may be, ought to be the top priority.

The spirit of inquiry inherent in universities has led to some of the most monumental discoveries in human history. We are putting all of it in jeopardy by curbing academic freedom. And this is something we should all care about.



So true….

There should be a subject available in all universities on the power of lobbying; and if there is at least include it in business courses, to ensure those choosing a career know what they are in for…which (under what they call democracy) is something attune to witchcraft presently…

How eloquently put. Interesting that financial inequality used to be the socialist bugbear, now it seems to have changed focus to race & identity.

Hear hear! Extremely well said Melissa Derby.

And Sir Bob today’s Tremain is so on point with this article.

Funny no one ever says a similar thing about the global push to have proportionate representation of females and minority groups on boards of listed companies. Imagine how unsuccessful the all blacks would become if someone ever noticed the all blacks were over-represented by people of Maori and Pacific island descent and under-represented by people of Asian descent! Just pick the best players regardless of their heritage.

Hopefully there are others in the NZ university system and its acadamia that are getting brave enough to challenge “The System” hopefully resulting in a rapid transmogrification of the current woeful status quo.Good on you Melissa for standing up and being counted .

Councillor Ray Chung July 2, 2023 at 7:56 am

Well done and very eloquently written thanks Melissa! I absolutely agree with you! Keep up the fight against this. I note the US Supreme Court ruled against these diversity policies as being undemocratic and ordered them nullified.

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