David Seymour condemns Massey University's new free speech policy

David Seymour is condemning Massey University's new free speech policy, saying it "protects feelings not speech".

On Monday, Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas released the University's new policy covering academic freedom, free speech and freedom of expression, as well as a code of practice for external speakers.

Writing in The Spinoff, Massey University provost Giselle Byrnes defended the policy as an attempt to balance free speech with the challenges of hate speech.

However the ACT Party leader calls it "lip service" to freedom of expression and academic freedom.

"Massey University's new free speech policy shows it is more concerned with protecting the feelings of a small number of students and creating safe spaces for them than it is with defending a central pillar of Western civilisation," Seymour said in a press release on Tuesday.

"Massey has been rightly condemned for its recent approach to freedom of expression. These new documents provide no reason to believe that approach will change."

Since 2018, Massey University has made headlines after staff ripped down posters supporting protesters in Hong Kong, Don Brash was banned from speaking, and a radical feminist event was cancelled.

Under the new policies, if people want to speak at a Massey University event, university officers will consider if they will cause "mental harm" to students and if the event will create "negative media coverage".

"Mental harm is deeply subjective and will allow small, vocal groups to block an event from taking place by claiming that they are likely to be psychologically hurt by the mere presence of a speaker on campus," Seymour says.

"Mental harm should never be used by an important public institution as a reason to prevent free exchange from taking place."

Massey says students need to feel welcomed rather than "silencing or marginalising them through speech which is ill-informed or disparaging".

"The University will provide support to students who are excluded from conversations advanced by defenders of 'free speech', those who are not accustomed to debating ideas in an orthodox Western fashion, and those who have less power than people with access to public platforms," the policy states.

"We must also be aware of the impacts of speech that might silence, stigmatise and victimise, especially in relation to ethnicity/'race', gender and sexual diversity, religion, national origin, ability or age, or other identities (as appropriate)."

Byrnes says the policies emphasise that academic freedom comes with "the responsibility to ensure that others are neither harmed nor hurt".

However Seymour argues that Massey "continues to fail the free speech test".

"Freedom of expression is half about what the law says and half about how important public institutions like universities behave," he says.

"What students find to be a useful contribution to their university experience might differ substantially from what woke university administrators believe they should hear."