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Massey University has hit back at claims its vice-chancellor misled the public, maintaining "genuine" security concerns around a planned speaking engagement scuttled the event Don Brash was to speak at.
The threat that had forced cancellation of Brash's speech had been "genuine" despite what others claim, a spokesperson for the university says.
Brash today called for Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas to resign after emails were released by Massey University under the Official Information Act.
In a statement provided to the New Zealand Herald, a spokesman for the university addressed the emails requested under the OIA surrounding Brash's planned visit to speak at the Manawatu campus as part of an event hosted by the university's Politics Society.
"It shows the Vice-Chancellor was first advised of the event several weeks beforehand.
"She held concerns because of the upset that a previous visit by Hobson's Pledge representatives to campus had caused but had been prepared to let it go ahead under conditions the students had signed up to," the spokesman said.
It was when a security threat was raised that Thomas made the decision to cancel the booking.
"Despite what others have claimed, the concern about the threat was genuine. Professor Thomas has subsequently said the university is reviewing how staff assess security threats at its campuses."
The information requested under the OIA was released in three parts.
"One includes communications received after the cancellation, including voicemail transcripts and emails to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jan Thomas.
"The second part is security-related information, including staff file notes, the venue hire agreement signed on August 1, correspondence from the Politics Club about their concerns raised on August 4, and a screenshot of a gun reference on social media," the spokesman said.
The third was correspondence to and from Thomas including references to "Don Brash", "hate speech" or "Hobson's Pledge".
"It includes the initial notification from the politics club to the Vice-Chancellor, dated July 9, about the event planned for August 8; the statement on August 7 regarding the cancellation of the venue hire booking; and an email communication to staff."
The statement comes in the wake of a revelation from an OIA request, by right-wing blogger David Farrar.
In the request documents show that security was not the main concern for the university canning the talk, but Thomas saying she didn't want a "te tiriti led university be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours".
Brash left "stunned" after emails
Brash, speaking to the Herald from Beijing today, said it was clear in the press statement made the day before the Politics Society event was going to take place that security concern was a pretext, it was not the real reason for its cancellation.
"She has no alternative but to resign.
"Frankly I don't think she has got any other alternative. She has been dishonest about the whole thing and clearly hoodwinked many involved, including me," Brash said today.
"The press statement alludes briefly to security concerns, but then talks about my so-called support for the two right-wing Canadians and talks about at some greater length about Hobson's Pledge.
"It implies we are engaged in hate speech, it was always a pretext."
Brash said he was "totally stunned" by the emails' contents and said they showed "weeks and weeks" of planning had gone into trying to ban him from the campus.
"I knew nothing of this until the day before the speech was due to take place.
"I think she should very seriously consider her position as vice-chancellor, she has seen to be totally misleading, if not lying."
Brash said Thomas had misled the public and him.
"She pretended there was security, even though it was pretty clear from an early stage it was a pretext.
"It is an extraordinary situation, I know of no precedent of this kind in anywhere in New Zealand."
Brash understood she had misled the university council about her concerns about security.
He rejected her claims that he was racist.
"I regard the question as ridiculous and offensive quite frankly. I am one of two spokespeople for Hobson's Pledge. We are very strongly committed to having all New Zealanders treated equally, irrespective of race.
"To call us racist is effectively Orwellian, it's the very opposite of what we are."
He pointed to an article in the Herald where she was defending her belief in free speech and said it didn't extend to hate speech.
"How anyone can say you are guilty of hate speech for advocating for equal right for all citizens is totally beyond me."
Despite all of this Thomas had given the green light to allow Brash to speak at another Politics Society event in October.
"I said I'm happy to speak but I don't want to book another round trip to Palmerston North only to have to cancel it. I said can you confirm I can speak on the campus."
A spokesman for Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he would not comment on the matter as universities were autonomous institutions.
THE EMAILS RELEASED UNDER OIA
An email was sent on July 9 in response to Jan Thomas' assistant after she advised Thomas she was not free to attend the debate as an observer.
"Ok however Donald Brash was v [very] racist re [regarding] Maori and Maori seat.
"Can you in the first instance see what [Name omitted] and [Name omitted] think about this and what we can do to manage, minimise etc," Thomas said in the internal email.
On July 10, she sends another email saying the subject was on her mind.
"I would like to know what are our options re [regarding] not allowing politics clubs to hold event on campus - free to hold any event but not with any inference of support by university.
"Will hit the fan in the media if we go this way. However, racist behaviour of Brash - given te reo is a official language of NZ and we are a tiriti led university - can't be ignored
"If goes ahead could be on the condition that Brash and others agree to respect the values of the university etc etc? But would be good if we can cut off at pass some how," Thomas said
Then on July 11, Thomas receives an email from a staff member saying there was no criteria in the university policy regarding what the university would or would not approve.
"The ground for me declining it may well be challenged and as per [name omitted] email yesterday I think would present a very real risk of us being accused restricting free speech etc," the staff member said.
The vice-chancellor then replied, saying she was still "deeply concerned" about the matter asking if there was any mechanism the university could use to stop the event.
"Do we have any mechanisms that might be able to be used here? The financial agreements with clubs and societies and associations? Use if facilities policy? How do the Māori community feel about this might be good to know too? What is the politics club schedule.
"Agree is a PR [public relations] problem in all circumstances. But being tiriti led will have huge challenges for us if we are to be brave enough to be authentic."
The next piece of correspondence is an email sent to Thomas where a staffer says Brash uses "free speech as a shield which to hide, as do many colonial racists and conservative commentators".
Then on July 13, another email from Thomas reveals Brash speaking still was of great concern to her.
"So I sum, I really want to find a way to indicate that Brash is not welcome on campus unless he agrees to abide by our values and the laws against hate speech. He is not a sitting politician so what is he getting this airing."
It wasn't until August 7, the day before Brash was marked to speak at the Manawatū campus that Thomas cancelled the speaking event, citing security concerns.