The shouting down of Don Brash shows decolonised democracy in action

An organisation which mounted a protest against Don Brash’s participation in the debate at the University of Auckland last night has yet to build a reputation for public service as impressive – or notorious, depending on your point of view – as his.

The organisation is “A New University“.

Point of Order could find no website in that name during a somewhat quick Google search but at Scoop we did found it has issued three press statements in recent months.

The first and third statements carry no names of spokespersons.

The second statement, however, said the organisation is composed of staff, students, and alumni, along with concerned community members. It named Vanessa Harvey as spokesperson.

The first statement, dated May 17, announced a protest by students and staff against the closure of specialist libraries, job losses, and lack of public funding for tertiary education.

This statement gave no clues about the membership but did declare an objective:

“In response to the failures of university managers and government ministers, they will demand a new democratic university.”

At issue was the University of Auckland’s restructuring, resulting in job losses, reduced support services “and the destruction of critical learning spaces”.  

“There have been a wave of protests against the closure of specialist libraries, including an occupation of the Fine Arts Library until police were called on the occupiers.  Students are now fighting for more than the libraries, they want a new university.

“Universities serve a vital role in acting as a critic and conscience of society. This restructure undermines that fundamental role.”

The organisation wanted the Labour-led government’s to relax its commitment to Budget responsibility rules, scrap “this unnecessary financial chokehold” and fund education, housing and welfare to unspecified levels above present appropriations.

It also criticised the University of Auckland being controlled “by highly paid senior managers that make top-down decisions about how funding and resources are allocated, bypassing consultation requirements and refusing to engage with students and staff as stakeholders in the institution”.

It demanded Stuart McCutcheon’s resignation as vice-chancellor and called for students and staff to be given control over how their place of work and learning are managed.

“Education is not a business. Students demand A New University under collective democratic control.”

This sounds suspiciously like the democratic control exercised by Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union.

The second statement, issued on June 21, declared: “A New University: Auckland University Library Restructures condemned by Students, Staff and Alumni”.

It condemned a decision to restructure the University’s Libraries and Learning Services.

While this statement disclosed that the membership was composed of staff, students, and alumni, along with concerned community members, it gave no numbers to give a measure of its strength.

On this occasion the organisation was opposing “this violent restructure”, which would result in the closure of specialist Creative Arts and Industries libraries, and their consolidation into a general library.  The restructure would result in the disestablishment of 112 positions, to be replaced with 96.5 new ones – a loss of 15.5 full time roles”.

The statement reiterated the organisation’s objective:

“These decisions are being dictated to students and staff who are the lifeblood of the university. There has been no appropriate consultation with those who are foremost affected by the restructures. It is evident that this university management, concerned with profits and cost-cutting, has failed our wider communities. Democratic control of the university is therefore necessary.”

It professed a belief in universities being a place of learning but favoured governance under a new model.

“Stuart McCutcheon and the current University Council marginalise university voices with government appointees. The profit model of the university treats education as a business, leading to the demise of the academic environment, and the calcification of ideas.”

“A New University is advocating for, and will take strong action towards, democratic control of the university. We want the university to be an academic institute and a place of learning.

“This means replacing the current University Council model with a decolonised democratic model. The university should be run by students, staff, and tangata whenua as those who make the university. Only when we control our own universities will these institutions flourish. Until then we will witness them decay.”

A decolonised democratic model, it seems, requires tangata whenua to displace government authorities or their agents to make the decisions alongside students and staff.

Where the money to run the university should come from was evident in the first statement.  Taxpayers will provide the money.

But the governing structure will not be accountable to taxpayers.

A New University’s statement yesterday said a public protest had been organised to oppose the inclusion of Brash in a University of Auckland Debating Society event to be held on campus last night.

With an Orwellian flair, the unnamed author of the statement said:

“Universities are legislatively bound to act as the ‘critic and conscience of society’. Condemning any platform for hate speech is a rare opportunity for the University community to fulfil this crucial role.

“The University of Auckland equity policy acknowledges the distinct status of Māori as tangata whenua and is committed to partnerships that acknowledge the principles of the Treaty. Hosting Brash directly contravenes equity principles and the protection of students and staff from discrimination.”

A New University called on University of Auckland management to follow through on its equity policy and strategic plan emphasis on promoting Māori presence and participation in all aspects of University life.

Brash got to speak to the students regardless.

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