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Free Speech Union welcomes Vice-Chancellor’s pivot towards free speech

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

After speaking on behalf of the University in July to condemn seven eminent scientists for offering a defence of science in the Listener magazine, saying their words "caused hurt and dismay", University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater, is now organising a symposium where all views on this topical debate can be aired in an open and constructive way.

A spokesperson for the Union, Ani O'Brien says "This should have been done from the start. Scholars within a university frequently disagree, and the role of the university itself is to maintain the ground on which that disagreement can take place, in good faith and in a scholarly fashion. That means that the university ought to take a neutral stance, to unequivocally defend the right and duty of its academics to make good-faith arguments, and to defend them from unfair attacks on their reputations."

"Facilitating a forum for debate will benefit wider society by exposing us all to a more nuanced presentation of the original letter writers’ concerns, along with offering us all a more detailed understanding of Mātauranga Māori. All the hot button topics of today can only benefit from engagement."

Following the publication of the Listener letter, an open response was prepared by Drs Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles in which they disagreed, saying "Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to ‘Western’ science…" and "Putting science on a pedestal gets us no further in the solution of these crises." More than 2000 academics signed the open letter.

The Royal Society of New Zealand also opened an investigation into the three Listener letter authors who are Fellows, following complaints from other members. This, and the Hendy-Wiles letter, has received attention across the world, including from distinguished individuals - for example, a letter to the Royal Society from Professor Richard Dawkins and rebuttal of parts of the open letter from Professor Steven Pinker.

The Free Speech Union is supporting the Fellows being investigated by the Royal Society and continues to work to defend the right of all New Zealanders to freely express their opinions. We hope that Professor Freshwater’s proposed symposium is conducted in the spirit of her announcement and look forward to robust debate flourishing in our universities and in our society once more.

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