Otago University pioneers bold new approach to the study of conflict

The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies says on its website it is the only centre of its kind in New Zealand and it addresses the most enduring and intractable problems confronting humanity.  It invites people to “join our passionate faculty to study development, peace-building and conflict transformation” and it offers a Master of Peace and Conflict Studies degree, one of very few such programmes in Australasia. But it is not without its own troubles.  KARL DU FRESNE reports:  

Sometimes irony is just too delicious for words.

The Otago Daily Times recently reported that the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago has been exposed as having a culture described as “toxic”, “paralysing”, “isolating” and “divisive”.

Those words come from a confidential 31-page report leaked to the ODT, which said the centre is known on campus as the “conflict and conflict” centre. The report described the centre as dysfunctional, with “deeply entrenched conflicts”. Perhaps they could use themselves as a case study.

It’s a story that falls squarely into the “you couldn’t make this up” category, but which seems, for reasons that I couldn’t speculate on, to have been ignored by the wider New Zealand media.

Bizarrely, I heard about it in the early hours of Saturday morning on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, a satirical weekly quiz show broadcast on America’s National Public Radio network.

The show’s panel thought it was hilarious – and who wouldn’t? They would probably have been just as amused to learn that someone in Masterton, New Zealand, learned about it from a radio programme broadcast from Chicago.

According to the ODT, the director of the centre, Prof Richard Jackson, has decided to step down. He could hardly do otherwise, given that the report recommended the appointment of a new director.

But it might be unfair to hold Jackson solely to blame, since the report notes that the problems go back for a decade. That implicates his predecessor, Prof Kevin Clements, who retired in 2017. Clements is a tiresome moralist who was exposed [on Karl du Fresne’s blog] in 2019 as having little credibility on one of his pet issues, gun control.

I don’t want to rush to judgment here, and God forbid that I should engage in stereotypes, but the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies sounds like a nest of feuding lefties who, while lecturing others about ways to resolve differences, are busy tearing each other’s eyes out, metaphorically speaking.

A clue to the ideological tone of the centre lies in Jackson’s profile on the university website, which lists his areas of academic interest as including critical peace research and critical terrorism studies.

That word “critical” is the giveaway. “Critical studies” and “critical theory” are broad umbrella terms for an essentially Marxist analysis that sees the world in terms of oppressive power structures.

Critical studies flourish in academia despite being wildly at odds with mainstream ideological beliefs. The University of Otago in particular seems to function as a breeding ground for leftist finger-waggers on a mission to lay bare the supposedly egregious failings of democratic capitalism and replace it with something better.

But there’s a further exquisite irony here. Judging by the ODT’s report, it seems the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has been at least partly undone by its failure to measure up to woke diktats relating to diversity and biculturalism. The report criticised it for making only a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism and for having “a poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols”.

What can we conclude from that? Perhaps that the centre’s academics were so preoccupied fighting among themselves – sorry, I meant nurturing an atmosphere of harmonious collaboration – that they failed to notice the vindictive woke crusade rapidly approaching in their rear-vision mirror. That would truly be a case of the revolution devouring its own.

  • Karl du Fresne is a freelance journalist and blogger living in the Wairarapa region.  His blog can be read HERE.  

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