This blog has been rather quiet of late, for which I apologise. I have been caught up with the Paul Buchanan affair, in my other role as Craccum's News Editor. The piece below is from this week's Craccum.
Let's talk about sex. On the other hand, let's not; let's talk about Paul Buchanan instead.
We had thought that if anything were to be controversial about last week's Craccum, it would be the sex theme. After all, we had published illustrations of very unpleasant Japanese sex games and a photograph of a man playing with his inflatable animal toy. Instead, the media went wild about a news item concerning a sacked lecturer.
Admittedly, the lecturer was Paul Buchanan, who is well-known to the media as a commentator on international affairs. And Craccum did have something of a scoop: we published the email he wrote to a student which, as it turned out, was the cause of his sacking. But we were unprepared for the storm of media attention that this item created.
Since the original news story was published, we have spoken to Paul Buchanan about the email and about his dismissal. His response to being sacked was: "the punishment is grossly exaggerated, given the nature of the crime and given the fact that I’ve had no prior warnings of any sort and I’ve never had a student complain against me before, ever. So it was a one-off that seemed a bit excessive; but then again I was on the receiving end, so I would say that. "
About the email, Dr Buchanan said: "I realise that the original email was too harsh, it was angry and that was a mistake and I wrote her the next day, I apologised and I told her I was having a real bad day and I shouldn’t have lost my temper. She accepted the apology and we agreed that she would give in this late work at some time in the near future. After that acceptance of the apology, she went silent and then things got really, really strange. So from then on obviously there were other actors at play. I had no idea what happened, but I do think the fact that I expressed to her and to the university my very deep remorse and sorrow at doing such a thing would’ve been a mitigating circumstance, and there were plenty of others as well, and for the life of me I can’t explain why those mitigating circumstances weren’t taken into account.
Dr Buchanan does not believe his email is an example of discrimination and racism: “No, on the contrary, the Western liberal guilt stuff, I was talking about myself, my own culture, I don’t have any Western liberal guilt, I’m sort of a hard person. As far as the culturally driven stuff, I thought at the time that she was preying on the fact that she was alleging that her father had died abroad, and I hear that all the time at the end of semester from international students. I hear it all the time every semester – relative dying in far-off places with no evidence of the death provided, and so I was in a particularly bad-tempered mood and so I wasn’t believing it, so that’s why I wrote what I wrote.
He added "My preference would be to settle it internally and be reinstated. Anything above and beyond that is up to the union. " Dr Buchanan suggested we speak to his representative at the Association of University Staff; we tried to do so, but our calls were not returned.
We also tried to get the other side of the story, that of the student to whom the email had been sent. She had forwarded Buchanan's email to us on 18th July, saying she found it offensive and hurtful. She asked us to print it so that students would be aware of the "institutional racism" at the University. After the story had broken in the mainstream media, we arranged a time with her for an interview. However, when that time came she did not answer our calls, although she did speak to the New Zealand Herald on the same day. The Herald story said she had complained to the university's mediation service and the Human Rights Commission because she felt Dr Buchanan's comment about her "culturally driven" reason for seeking an extension was racist.
The Herald also reports that Dr Buchanan had a broader concern with the quality of overseas students being accepted for his post-graduate courses. He says he had argued with Associate Professor Stephen Hoadley about this issue on the same day that he sent the email.
One of Dr Buchanan's former students, Darryl Godfrey MA(Hons) supports his concerns: "Paul is absolutely correct to speak out about the quality of international students coming here to do post-graduate study in an academic discipline that they have no previous training in. The mighty dollar side of the argument will win yet again because, it seems, money talks, not academic principles. It's deja vu for me from my days on the University Senate hearing the same arguments then. I had some good chats with Paul about the antics of the various University bodies over these matters. I can honestly say that he has very strong convictions on these issues and has a spine unlike many other people around the McIvory Towers. For that he loses. Where's the fairness?"
We have also heard from current and former members of the academic staff who have complaints about the University's methods of dealing with employment issues. One asked rhetorically: "guess which university has accounted for the bulk of Personal Grievance claims in the past few years? And pays out huge sums to settle out of court. A number of us have observed that the University does not make real attempts to redeploy staff in redundancy cases, but simply seeks to make a paper trail in case things come to court, and seems prepared to pay out large sums to avoid things getting into court.
Our source also observed that "the apogee came last year when some of my colleagues were declared redundant by the University, which then proceeded to advertise for people to teach in their areas while they were serving out their notice. The University said that they have to advertise 'vacancies' under the State Sector Act, but you may well ask how an employer can have a vacancy if it has employed someone to do the work that it is seeking someone to do!"
You can expect to hear more from revolting staff. According to our source, a group has been formed among academic staff to publicise the University's behaviour: "there is much more below the surface than I am letting on, and I suspect that it will come to the light of day in the near future"