Statement from the Vice-Chancellor

To staff and students of the University of Auckland

I would like to clarify my position on the recent debate about free speech at the University.

Let me be very clear: I am, always have been, and always will be utterly opposed to prejudice, discrimination and hate speech of any kind, including the kind that is characterised as white supremacy. I recognise the impact that such behaviours have on those against whom they are directed. I also applaud and support others who have spoken out against those kinds of behaviours and views.

Any discrimination, including racism, homophobia and sexism, is totally inconsistent with the values of the University of Auckland and our commitment to being safe, inclusive and equitable. It has no place on our campuses.

Moreover, the University can – and does – act on complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination, when they are brought to our attention.

I also believe that freedom of speech is important in a democracy and in a university. Sometimes the free expression of conflicting views, even when done appropriately and within the law, may lead to some people feeling hurt or upset by those views.

While one would wish to avoid that as far as possible, the contest of views is a key function of a university in a democracy. I do not believe that it is the role of the Vice-Chancellor to censor views that are within the law, even when he or others in the University do not agree with them.

That is the point I was trying to make in my interview with Craccum magazine last week.

However, based on the many comments I have received in recent days from students and staff members on this issue, I recognise that the most important matter right now is not a debate about free speech, which I think we should put to one side for the moment. There has been the suggestion that it could be a 'hot topics' subject for Senate and that seems a good idea.

The most important matter right now is the very real hurt and sense of threat that some people in our University community (students and staff) feel in response to these expressions of white supremacist views.

I acknowledge that hurt, and I have listened carefully to, and understood, the concerns of our people.

My priority as Vice-Chancellor is to continue working with students and staff to address this challenging issue and to create a University community that is truly safe, inclusive and equitable for everyone.

Stuart McCutcheon