Pages tagged "Academic Freedom"

  • Prominent American journalist and author to tour New Zealand universities with Free Speech Union


    11 April 2024

    Prominent American journalist and author to tour New Zealand universities with Free Speech Union

    Prominent American journalist and author Jonathan Rauch will visit New Zealand with the Free Speech Union next month to discuss the importance of academic freedom, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union. 

    “Rauch is a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institute, the author of eight books and many articles on LGBT rights, public policy, culture, and government. 

    “We’re pleased to bring Rauch to New Zealand for a week from May 12 to specifically engage on the issue of academic freedom. He will speak on university campuses across New Zealand, meet with vice-chancellors, and give the keynote address at a university symposium co-hosted with the New Zealand Initiative in Wellington. 

    “Especially relevant to the tour are Rauch’s books The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth and Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, which defend free speech, science, and robust criticism. 

    “We’ve documented a consistent decline in academic freedom and academics’ ability to perform their crucial function in society. Universities should be a place where ideas and theories are freely debated and tested, but we continue to see that this is not the case. 

    “We look forward to Rauch’s visit contributing to this important discussion.” 


  • Free Speech Union Work on Academic freedom in New Zealand Universities

  • Proposals to amend “free speech” at university

  • Free Speech Union welcomes Government’s early steps to defend free speech


    24 November 2023


    Free Speech Union welcomes Government’s early steps to defend free speech   

    Policy objectives announced today by the Incoming-Government will strengthen free speech in New Zealand. The Free Speech Union welcomes these early steps to once again protect free speech as the foundation of our human rights framework, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.   

    "The commitment to protect freedom of speech by ruling out the introduction of hate speech legislation and stopping the Law Commission’s work on hate speech legislation is a fitting conclusion to our long-running campaign to prevent hate speech law reform.  

    "Criminalising words that some may find offensive has never been the appropriate way to fix the underlying issues at play. Such laws are often used against the very minority communities they seek to protect.  

    "The final burial of these nonsense laws is a big win for free speech.  

    "Universities and academics have long held the position as society’s critic and conscience. They must be free to debate controversial issues, even if some find the ideas being debated viscerally unpleasant or even 'harmful'.

    "We welcome the proposed amendment to the Education and Training Act such that tertiary education providers receiving taxpayer funding must commit to a free speech policy in order to maintain this status.  

    "Throwing out the proposed hate speech laws and strengthening free speech in tertiary education are major wins for all Kiwis who care about the basic freedom to speak freely. 

    "We remain committed to our principles of non-partisanship and will remain vocal critics and opponents of any who oppose free speech, especially the Government. Likewise, we look forward to working closely with all who seek to protect and expand free speech in New Zealand." 


  • Research Finds Culture Of Fear Limiting Academic Freedom Across Kiwi Universities

    26 May 2023


    Research Finds Culture Of Fear Limiting Academic Freedom Across Kiwi Universities

    The Free Speech Union, in conjunction with Curia Market Research, has released its second Annual Academic Freedom Report, which considers the views of hundreds of academics from across each of New Zealand's eight universities. "Academic freedom is indispensable if the university is going to perform its role as the 'critic and conscience of society'. Yet, this report outlines considerable concerns for Kiwi academic freedom and the culture of open debate and research in our universities. It deepens concerns that we have raised for some time about the ability for Kiwi academics to voice controversial or unpopular views", says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.

    "A majority of comments from academics reflected concerns about the state of academic freedom, with a clear sense of growing difficulty in raising and discussing a range of issues in the university context. This was seen at all levels of academic discourse, including with colleagues, university management, students, teaching, or speaking in public.

    "Many responses referred to a 'climate of fear' and a large number mentioned concerns about job security of barriers to promotion for expressing the 'wrong' views. Across every metric, responses indicate academics feel less free than they did last year.

    "Concerningly, this report shows that a majority of academics who responded at five of our eight universities disagreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions, even though this is one of the specific features of academic freedom as defined in the Education and Training Act 2020. Across all eight universities, only 46% of academics agreed they felt free to question received wisdom and state controversial and unpopular opinions. The rest disagreed.

    "When asked about their willingness to speak about the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, at least one-third (30%) of academics at every single university said they would feel ‘Not at all comfortable’. Almost half (45%) of academics from Otago were ‘Not at all comfortable’.

    "Freedom in the university sector is stagnating, and its leaders either don’t know or don’t care. We need to pay attention and do something- our future is far more bleak without solutions, as disruptive or unexpected as they may be, that move us forward."

  • Academics Invited To Respond To Survey For Report On Academic Freedom

    22 March 2023


    Academics Invited To Respond To Survey For Report On Academic Freedom

    In conjunction with Curia Market Research, the Free Speech Union has distributed a survey on academic freedom to academics across each of the eight universities in New Zealand. Respect for academic freedom is a statutory responsibility for universities, and this data will reflect the lived experiences of academics concerning this freedom, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.

    “The Free Speech Union envisions a flourishing New Zealand civil society that values and protects vigorous debate, dissenting ideas, and freedom of speech as cultural cornerstones. In order to achieve this, the rights for freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual inquiry are vital. 

    “Last year, over 1,200 academics participated in the Survey, presenting important data on the experience of academics at universities across the country. The results to last year's survey showed prevailing freedom to test received wisdom and to voice opposition to the government. However, many academics also raised concerns about their freedom to discuss certain subjects or to voice opinions contrary to their peers.

    "The open contest of ideas is a hallmark of a liberal democracy. If this cannot be achieved in our universities, where will this debate be allowed? We thank the academics who will take the time to participate in this survey, and look forward to presenting the results.”

  • Te Pūkenga Teaching Staff Must Have Their Academic Freedom Upheld And Affirmed

    16 March 2023


    Te Pūkenga Teaching Staff Must Have Their Academic Freedom Upheld And Affirmed

    The academic freedom of the teaching staff at Te Pūkenga must be upheld and affirmed. Academics in New Zealand have the responsibility to be society’s 'critic and conscience', yet through instructions like those issued by the Chief Executive, academic freedom will suffer a death by 1000 cuts, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.

    "We are very concerned by the apparent speech-policing by the Chief Executive of the mega-merger of institutes of technology and polytechnics. Teaching staff at Te Pūkenga have the right to academic freedom not only on principle, but also plainly legislated in the Education and Training Act 2020.

    ‘Academics are not public servants; not even close. The right to academic freedom explicitly includes the right to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas (in whatever language necessary) and even to state controversial or unpopular opinions. Naturally, this would include ideas that politicians might disagree with. Therefore, it is imperative that academics not be constrained by any requirement for ‘political neutrality’.

    ‘We are also concerned by the use of a ‘style-guide’ with a list of words Te Pūkenga staff are expected not to use. Even if not mandatory or enforced, such expectations indicate a culture hostile to free speech that chills the free expression of staff. The way that ideas are described and spoken is often as vital as the ideas themselves. Debates must not be pre-determined through tone-policing.

    ‘We count many academic staff among our supporters. They have impressed upon us their belief that the instructions are antithetical to their important role. We call on Te Pūkenga Chief Executive Peter Winder to withdraw his instructions for staff to be ‘politically neutral’ and rescind the speech-policing ‘style guide’."

  • Free speech – a student's perspective

    When recently attending the Free Speech Unions event at the University of Otago, I was struck by two thoughts: who was there, and who wasnt. 

    I have already come to realise I traverse two increasingly separate worlds.  As a student, in the shadow of the ivory tower of academia, intersectionality, anti-racism, post-colonialism, and the destruction of anything old, white, and male reign supreme. Yet, among my wider family - and to many others in this country - these ideas butt up against the values which have enabled us to build this liberal democratic society. As an example, in the views of the latter group, co-governance is perceived as an unjustified exception to the principle of equal universal suffrage, which many have fought and died for. Whereas, in uni-land, it is seen as the opposite: a necessity to fix past injustice. 

    In between these two worlds, day-by-day, tension is growing as they diverge further apart. We are becoming a polarised country. It seems clear to me, that the only way to resolve these tensions within society is dialogue. Robust, critical, unrestricted, and open dialogue - and the fostering of a spirit of curiosity to understand the others world view. 

    Consequently, I find the failure of anyone on the political Left to turn up to the event hosted by the Free Speech Union at Otago University, which sought to both protect and define the limits of freedom of speech, highly disappointing.

    If freedom of speech means anything, it means giving others the right to say things you do not want to hear, even if these things appear upsetting or abhorrent. Moreover, up until very recent times the university has, as an institution, held itself out to be the arena in which all and any ideas can be contested - believing that it is only in this contest, no matter how difficult or controversial it may be, that truth can be found.

    However, it now seems that many (perhaps most) within the university system refuse to contribute to this contest. Moreover, for the most controversial topics, they even refuse to allow it to occur at all. Then, when those in the other world get louder and more vexatious towards them in reply, they are outraged. They pursue an ideology that seems to censor anyone who rejects their world view. It is ideological hubris in the extreme.

    All that said, I equally do not doubt that some people on the political Right simply wanted to use the event as a platform to hurl abuse. Their ad hominem attacks did not focus on the contest of ideas; they played the person, not the ball, and through this stifled genuine debate. I find it difficult to reconcile what I heard at points within the event with what I believe is freedom of speechs requisite duty; the duty to allow others to speak – and the duty to then listen. 

    Whilst, to his credit, Peter Williams did guide the panel (of Michael Woodhouse MP, James McDowall MP, and Dunedin Mayoral candidate Lee Vandervis) in fielding difficult questions from the crowd despite these outbursts, it was clear this was not the productive debate it could have been. 

    From the Left, there lacked the courage to front up and listen to those who think differently the courage to present their views on freedom of speech (and its limits) reasonably and rationally despite what they might have construed (probably correctly) as a hostile crowd. And from the Right the wisdom to control their emotions – to focus on reason – and give the debate the creditability it deserved. 

    Thus, instead of leaving with a concept of freedom of speech befitting of both worlds, I was left in a relative quagmire. I agreed with what was said by the panel for the most part – but it was unchallenged – and I am the poorer from it. Moreover, the outbursts unfortuantely justified the Left’s refusal to attend. The steady march of polarisation within our country carries on. 

    Free speech has been the foundation on which liberal democracy has been built. In all its imperfectection, I believe it remains demonstrably the best option available. The work of the Free Speech Union to protect the crucial liberty of speech, from both the Left and the Right is thus crucial.  Yet free speech is in itself not the full solution. It takes each of us to show up and respect the other side for the peace and stability we enjoy in our country to be maintained.


     *Tomas O’Brien is a supporter of the Free Speech Union and law student at Otago University 

  • Free Speech Union Releases First Annual Universities Ranking Report

    15 August 2022


    Free Speech Union Releases First Annual Universities Ranking Report

    The Free Speech Union has released the first Annual Universities Ranking Report, taking a critical look at the policies and practices of New Zealand’s universities with regards to free speech, and “grading” them on whether they suppress or encourage academic freedom and free expression on campus, says Jonathan Ayling, spokesperson for the Free Speech Union.

    “As an institution, the University is critical for introducing, challenging, and disseminating ideas in New Zealand culture and society. It has a traditional and statutory role as ‘critic and conscience’ of society and the Free Speech Union is determined to showcase universities that bear this responsibility, and to hold them to account when they don’t.

    “The report analyses the policies and reported practices of universities, alongside the perceptions of their own academic staff (as shown in the Annual Free Speech Union Academic Survey) to determine where speech is most free on campus. It has been reviewed by the Free Speech Union Academic Advisory Council and presents a thorough overview of the state of free speech at universities.

    “It is apparent which institutions uphold their role as ‘critic and conscience’ and those that seem to value their supposed progressive reputations over the ability for their staff and students to express themselves and perform research freely. The only university to receive a fail mark was Auckland University of Technology, which continues to display consistent opposition to free speech and its role as ‘critic and conscience’ of society.

  • Academic Freedom Poll Results

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