Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon has responded to students and staff who protested his decision not to remove or condemn white supremacist posters appearing on universty grounds.
In a mass email sent to student and staff, McCutcheon said he was “utterly opposed to prejudice, discrimination and hate speech of any kind, including the kind that is characterised as white supremacy”. However, McCutcheon said he stood by his earlier statement that the posters should not be removed, as they are protected by free speech. “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,” McCutcheon wrote, “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.”
Although McCutcheon reiterated his belief in free speech, he did acknowledge that his comments about free speech may have been unnecessarily provocative. “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,” he said. “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.”
While McCutcheon acknowledged the “hurt” and “concerns” of staff and students, he did not apologise for his earlier statement. He did not say the university would condemn or remove the posters either. However, in the staff version of the email sent out, McCutcheon wrote that – as a response to the protests – the issue “could be a ‘hot topic’ subject for Senate”.
The email came as a response to recent events. Last week, after McCutcheon told Craccum the university would not take a stance against the posters, hundreds of university staff signed a petition announcing “racism and white supremacy have no place at the University of Auckland”. Following this, several students held a sit-in and impromptu protest outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office.