Massey students have organised a peaceful protest in response to a decision to cancel a student organised event which featured former politician Don Brash.
Students say by cancelling the event the university is putting an “assault on free speech” and setting a “dangerous precedent”.
Brash was scheduled to speak to the Massey University Manawatū Politics Society today at the Palmerston North campus, however, the event was cancelled after it was decided the risk of harm to students was too high.
Students have now organised a protest, which is due to take place on the university’s concourse from 11am.
On social media, student organisers of the protest said banning Brash from speaking was an assault on free speech.
“This is, simply put, and assault on free-speech, a dangerous precedent and revokes the right to students to hear a range of views and make their own minds up,” student organisers said.
“You do not have to agree with everything that Don Brash stands for to come along and show your support for free speech on our university campuses.”
In a statement on its website, Massey University said members of the politics society had approached university management after becoming aware of social media posts suggesting the event could lead to violence.
It said the risk to staff, students and members of the public was too high at a time of greatened tensions over free speech and hate speech.
The statement said Brash was founder of Hobson’s Pledge a controversial lobby group and a supporter of right-wing Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were due to address a public meeting in Auckland.
Massey University Students’ Association (MUSA) said it was disappointed in the university’s decision to prevent Brash from speaking on campus.
It said Brash was invited to speak as a part of the politics society's ‘Past, Present, and Future Events’ about New Zealand Politics.
“MUSA does not support Don Brash’s racist views. We are proud supporters of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Māori Wards, and our partner association Manawatahi.
“Student safety is paramount, and from social media comments there were safety concerns for the event. However, the Massey Manawatū Politics Society (MMPS) did not have the option to discuss further security arrangements before this decision to cancel was made by the university.
“Students and student clubs should have the opportunity to engage in discussion and debate, respecting freedom of expression and the Human Rights Act,” the association said.
In a statement, Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas, said she supports free speech on campus, but totally opposes hate speech.
“Mr Brash’s leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils was clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Māori staff,” she said.
“Whether those views would have been repeated to students in the context of a discussion about the National Party may seem unlikely, but I have no way of knowing.
“In my opinion the views expressed by members of Hobson’s Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with the University’ strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation.”
Thomas said it was clear there was heightened sensitivity and passion following the protests both against and in support of Southern and Molyneux’s right to be heard.
“Our ultimate responsibility is for the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and members of the public on our campuses and under those circumstances cancelling the booking is the right thing to do.
“The members of the politics club have acted responsibly in raising their concerns with the university and are free to meet Dr Brash at another venue if they wish.”