19 Dec 2018

Brash ban review clears Massey vice-chancellor

5:36 pm on 19 December 2018

An independent review has cleared the vice-chancellor of Massey University, Jan Thomas, of lying about the cancellation of an event involving Don Brash earlier this year.

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas and Don Brash

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

However, it said the university should have postponed rather than cancelled the Politics Society event in August.

The university commissioned the review by consulting firm Martin Jenkins after complaints that Dr Thomas had mislead the public about the reasons the university had revoked the society's permission to hold the event.

At the time Dr Thomas had said there was a security threat, but emails published under the Official Information Act showed she had been worried Dr Brash's presence would indicate the university endorsed racist behaviour.

"Despite the Vice Chancellor's clear discomfort, we are confident that before she became aware of the potential security threat she did not intend to prevent the event from taking place on campus. The email in late July informing the Chancellor that the event would go ahead was the last documented communication on this issue until the potential security threat was raised," the report said.

It said the security threat was a social media reference to bringing a gun to the event and it should have been properly assessed before the cancellation was decided.

"We understand there was a felt obligation to make a decision quickly in order to give the Politics Society time to find an alternative venue, if they chose. However, the threat was not immediate, and the use of the campus venue should have been postponed until the University had been provided with a proper threat assessment."

The report said that after Dr Thomas learned of the event earlier in the year, her leadership team advised her to let it go ahead. It said there were no grounds to refuse the use of campus facilities and stopping the event could be seen as a restriction on free speech.

However, Dr Thomas continued to "explore options for managing the event", including seeking advice on whether the university could use its funding conditions for student clubs and societies.

"It was ill-judged for the Vice Chancellor to investigate using student funding conditions as a potential basis for managing the event. Together with the reactive changes to the Terms of Use, this invited criticism of the University and the Vice Chancellor," the report said.

The report recommended the university conduct a thorough threat assessment if similar circumstances arose in future, and that it develop a clear policy and proess for evaluating potential security threats.

It also said the university could have better managed its communications and recommended the university develop clear guidance for public relations in similar situations.

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