Monday, March 7, 2022

Otago University pioneers bold new approach to the study of conflict

[Readers please note: the reference to the Media Council's decision on a  complaint involving Siouxsie Wiles toward the end of this post has been updated.]

Sometimes irony is just too delicious for words.

The Otago Daily Times recently reported that the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago has been exposed as having a culture described as “toxic”, “paralysing”, “isolating” and “divisive”.

Those words come from a confidential 31-page report leaked to the ODT, which said the centre is known on campus as the “conflict and conflict” centre. The report described the centre as dysfunctional, with “deeply entrenched conflicts”. Perhaps they could use themselves as a case study.

It’s a story that falls squarely into the “you couldn’t make this up” category, but which seems, for reasons that I couldn’t speculate on, to have been ignored by the wider New Zealand media.

Bizarrely, I heard about it in the early hours of Saturday morning on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, a satirical weekly quiz show broadcast on America’s National Public Radio network.

The show’s panel thought it was hilarious – and who wouldn’t? They would probably have been just as amused to learn that someone in Masterton, New Zealand, learned about it from a radio programme broadcast from Chicago.

According to the ODT, the director of the centre, Prof Richard Jackson, has decided to step down. He could hardly do otherwise, given that the report recommended the appointment of a new director.

But it might be unfair to hold Jackson solely to blame, since the report notes that the problems go back for a decade. That implicates his predecessor, Prof Kevin Clements, who retired in 2017. Clements is a tiresome moralist who was exposed in this blog in 2019 as having little credibility on one of his pet issues, gun control.

I don’t want to rush to judgment here, and God forbid that I should engage in stereotypes, but the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies sounds like a nest of feuding lefties who, while lecturing others about ways to resolve differences, are busy tearing each other’s eyes out, metaphorically speaking.

A clue to the ideological tone of the centre lies in Jackson’s profile on the university website, which lists his areas of academic interest as including critical peace research and critical terrorism studies.

That word “critical” is the giveaway. “Critical studies” and “critical theory” are broad umbrella terms for an essentially Marxist analysis that sees the world in terms of oppressive power structures.

Critical studies flourish in academia despite being wildly at odds with mainstream ideological beliefs. The University of Otago in particular seems to function as a breeding ground for leftist finger-waggers on a mission to lay bare the supposedly egregious failings of democratic capitalism and replace it with something better.

But there’s a further exquisite irony here. Judging by the ODT’s report, it seems the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has been at least partly undone by its failure to measure up to woke diktats relating to diversity and biculturalism. The report criticised it for making only a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism and for having “a poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols”.

What can we conclude from that? Perhaps that the centre’s academics were so preoccupied fighting among themselves – sorry, I meant nurturing an atmosphere of harmonious collaboration – that they failed to notice the vindictive woke crusade rapidly approaching in their rear-vision mirror. That would truly be a case of the revolution devouring its own.

Meanwhile, in other significant news from the academic front lines, Stuff reports today that the Media Council has upheld a complaint against it for publishing an inaccurate column about the Listener Seven and then unreasonably delaying the publication of a correction.

The column was written following the fracas over the now-famous letter to The Listener from seven eminent academics challenging the definition of matauranga Maori – traditional Maori knowledge – as science. The columnist wrongly claimed that amid the furore that erupted, the writers of the Listener letter intimidated junior colleagues with lawyers’ letters, presumably for the purpose of discouraging further condemnation. (In fact letters were sent, but by Auckland University in response to privacy issues raised by two of the seven.)  

The Listener Seven complained their reputations had been damaged by the suggestion of intimidation, which the Media Council described as “a most serious allegation … striking at the heart of academic freedom by asserting that the Professors were trying to stifle opposing views”. The council agreed that the statement was inaccurate.

So – exoneration for the Listener Seven and a black mark against Stuff, which the council further rebuked over the timing and inadequacy of its corrections, one of which was ambiguously written and failed to acknowledge that the column was wrong.

But the most curious aspect of this affair is that although the errant columnist is named several times in the council’s decision, nowhere in its report does Stuff identify her. She happens to be Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, who was one of the leaders of the orchestrated backlash against the heretical Listener Seven.

The question now becomes: is Stuff protecting Wiles, and if so, why? There are lots of possible answers to that question, and none of them would surprise me.

Important update (added March 9): Journalist and blogger Graham Adams asked Stuff why Wiles wasn't named in its report and was told the published summary of the decision was supplied by the Media Council. Therefore Stuff can't be accused of protecting Wiles and the question becomes: why was the Media Council so coy about naming her in its press release?


CXH said...

Thanks for the info. Read the article and assumed it was just a stuff up by a stuff reporter. The fact it is Wiles changes the optics, not in a nice way. They are obviously trying to save her from having to face up for an obvious lie.

Anna Mouse said...

Probably mitigating any liability for potential cash payments to those unfairly targetted with outright lies......

Either way it has shone a torch on truth (albeit not a strong torch) but certainly proves the old saying that the left always eats themselves.

oneblokesview said...

seems like a good case for defamation!

Those who live by the sword etc.
Guess the Associate Professor thought she was bullet proof after TV adulation and having the DG of Health and PM covering her stuffups.

Kiwiwit said...

Friends and colleagues look at me askance when I say I get all my NZ news from offshore sources these days, but your two stories explain exactly why - much NZ news is not reported by the local legacy media (presumably because it does not fit with their ideological stance) and the rest is unreliable, self-serving or simply false.

David McLoughlin said...

The Media Council rebuke to Stuff was only on its online front page for about an hour. It leapt off the screen at me that it didn't name Siouxsie Wiles, but I wasn't at all surprised. A link from that clump of fog suggested you could click to go to the Media Council ruling; but in fact the link only went to the Media Council home page, leaving anyone wanting to know who the column author was having to hunt about the website looking for one ruling among many rulings. I wasn't at all surprised.

I will be looking in tomorrow's ComPost to see if the Media Council ruling is reported there, and if it names Siouxsie Wiles as the author of the column. Will I be surprised if neither happens? Of course not. The only surprise will be if the rebuke appears and if Wiles is named.

Richard said...

You have to wonder where the censorship starts from on Stuff and elsewhere in the media.
Is it senior management/owners who vet articles or deliver the message through senior journalists/subeditors ?
Or is it the journalists/opinion writers at ground level who simply ignore leads and facts that do correspond with their view of how New Zealand should be ?

Birdman said...

On locating the Stuffed article that reports their culpability but does not identify Wiles, it is a task. You have to go right to the bottom of Stuffed's page and find "Editorial code", click on that and enter "complaints" - transparent no?

But on the point and why she is protected. I propose it's purely political and if that's true then the team of $55M keeps coming back into play with all its wider and recently bitter implications and debate. Stuffed hasn't fessed up here when the lie has been made by someone (Wiles) with what seems a political agenda well outside her area of expertise.

Fifield/Stuff have protect Wiles over a number of issues. They’ve done it for the same reasons they protected her from more than deserved criticism for breaching lockdown rules which she may have helped promulgate (poor thing, leave her alone, she’s a covid celebrity).

Stuff publicised and supported her for attacking those beastly 7, funnily enough who were right, have won every battle on the point to date against her, the UoA, the NZRS, as well as the seriously uninformed who cravenly signed her letter.

I admire the 7 (being those who remain above ground unfortunately) for their courage as well as their informed level of debate and informed knowledge from the outset. There was some indication from the FSU that a couple of the 7 are taking other legal action, against who but knows. After the media council decision it could well be Wiles (sad, well meaning, this is a travesty).

I'm a cynic I know.

Andy Espersen said...

This is a huge laugh, of course – but perhaps the biggest laugh should be addressed to a university that in full seriousness set up “The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies”. It cannot be a study in its own right, can it? I mean, you cannot imagine getting a degree in “Peace and Conflict Studies”. It is not a bona fide university subject. As a Sociology, Political Science or Philosophy student you could possibly write a paper on the subject – but your degree would be in those traditional sciences, surely.

So actually, what was that “National Centre” meant to do, other than sitting together having a talk fest every day - and that is probably how they all came to be so wonderfully embroiled!! I think there is a good case for taxpayer supported tertiary education institutions to have to apply to, say, Parliament’s standing Committee on Education for permission to set up anything as hare-brained as that. Leave that sort of stuff to learning institutions that are financially independent – but I cannot imagine these having a bar of such idiocy.

Phil said...

There was an international outcry against the treatment of the 7 scientists and was largely ignored by NZ media. I read an online Daily Mail article and comments underneath from Kiwis baffled that the likes of Richard Dawkins speaking out slipped under the radar in NZ

Phil said...

The centre has written articles for the ODT generally attacking Brexit/Trump. I haven't noticed an article about the Ukraine.

David McLoughlin said...

I mean, you cannot imagine getting a degree in “Peace and Conflict Studies”.

My daughter recently completed a Masters in International Terrorism and Conflict Resolution at Auckland University, so it is certainly a thing. I think such areas are relevant for people working in, say, foreign affairs, diplomacy or security intelligence.

Odysseus said...

I very much hope the surviving six professors sue Stuff and Wiles for defamation. This matter needs to be exposed in a court of law for the wider public to see. Will Kiwibank withdraw its 2020 "New Zealander of the Year" award to Wiles? If not, I will complete the withdrawal of the funds I have remaining with the bank, and I would urge others to do the same.

Ribro90 said...

There is no apology in the Stuff report for having defamed the professors,not unexpected, just business as usual.
The failure of the NZ MSM speaks volumes on their stand on left wing orthodoxy and their principled stand on holding the government's agenda to the cleansing sunlight of public opinion.

Peter Dale said...

Karl, you have made my day. the cat-fight that is Otago University continues unabated and Ms Wiles is subject to witless protection by Stuff.

alloy said...

It's worth noting that it's international Woman's day and that the Herald has included her in their montage above the Herald logo.


D'Esterre said...

I hadn't seen either of these items.

With regard to the university of Otago, my late mother was an alumna. She began studying there almost a century ago. She'd be horrified at the intellectual decline of that institution.

As to the Wiles story: from the beginning of 2020, I've refused to read or watch anything to do with the pandemic, having seen early on that it was being politicised up the wazoo. So I haven't read anything of hers. Though I was of course aware of various of her prognostications. And of her being caught breaking the lockdown rules which she insisted upon the rest of us obeying. I also knew about the matauranga Maori furore, and her gratuitous comments on it. It's been difficult to avoid news items of that kind.

Just today, I found this comment on "experts" (which Wiles claims to be: or at least the MSM claims on her behalf):

"It is common practice now for media outlets discussing a particular subject to refer to any gawping simpleton with two feet and a heartbeat as an ‘expert’, so long as his or her ‘expert opinion’ coincides with ‘the narrative’. Routinely, no substantiation is provided as to the ‘expert’s’ credentials; you’re just supposed to figure he or she must know, because everything he said corroborates the media’s story. Once you had to attain some pretty impressive standards in your field before you could be considered an expert, but nowadays you merely need to be warm to the touch and breathe without assistance, because the narrator or journalist assumes you don’t know anything about the subject, either, and as long as what they say and what the expert says have some observable parallels, sold!"

The quote is from this story:

Aside from making me laugh uproariously, that clip seemed to me to be an apt description of the situation here over the past couple of years. How many talking heads, introduced as "experts", do we now have? I've lost track.

Andy Espersen said...

You are so right re “experts”, D'Esterre. Here is what Albert Einstein said : “We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems, and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have the right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society”.

The Covid pandemic is a human problem. Human problems must be approached and solved in human, in ethical, ways. Siouxsie Wiles pronounces herself a “scientific expert”. Perhaps she is – perhaps she is not. I would not know – as I am not an epidemiologist. But I am a human being – and have every right to insist that the way we deal with the problem must be humane, must be ethical.

Government is not obliged to follow expert advice. Our politicians’ job is exclusively to do the best, the most humane, the most charitable, the most rational for their fellow New Zealand’s citizens who elected them to be leaders.

D'Esterre said...

Andy Espersen: thanks for the Einstein quote. He knew a thing or two, did he not? It's a great pity that the government didn't follow his advice, rather than hanging on the science, as if it were the only game in town.

I agree: the pandemic is a human problem. I remain angry that our society has been forced to toe a scientific hard line, which apparently took no account of the realities of people's lives. News articles suggest that approach has caused a good deal of physical and psychological damage in our society.

I remain very angry that the border was closed for so long, to so many NZers, while celebrities were able to come and go. In my view, the government forced offshore NZers to pay the price of its inability or unwillingness to beef up health services. And that is unethical.

If it had let in everyone who wished or needed to return, while still keeping numbers of cases low, now that would have been something to crow about. As things stand, we in NZ have had a faux success, built on keeping people out, and thereby eroding their rights.

"I am not an epidemiologist."

Neither am I. And it appears that we're in good company: as far as I can determine, neither is Wiles. She's a microbiologist who specialises in bioluminescence. A member of this household speculates that she studies her own hair!

I've paid little to no attention to the tsunami of coronavirus-based information over the past couple of years. I know whereabouts I need to wear a mask; I'm fully-vaccinated (group 3, comorbidities). Beyond that, I don't need to know anything. Most NZers have had the bejasus scared out of them by catastrophist stories from here and overseas. I've avoided all that, to the great benefit of my mental health.

Richard Arlidge said...

In terms of the first story, as the saying goes, 'truth can be stranger than fiction', and what a remarkable backstory and joke this is - just a pity the latter is, arguably, at our expense.

It’s befitting that you ran this and the other story together, as it highlights that some academics and universities are falling well short of the intellectual rigour, honesty and endeavour we would typically expect and that one has to be increasingly mindful these days that such seems all too expendable, particularly when it comes to promoting certain woke narratives.

So, in terms of the other story, I say good job that Wiles was called out for her disgraceful lie and I wonder if Hendy and the other reputed 2000-odd academic signatories are still feeling quite as comfortable about the underlying issue behind that lie?

I can only hope that we haven't heard the last of it and that the present wet bus ticket morphs into a more substantial and befitting reprimand. It’s also not hard to imagine why Stuff are doing their level best to keep it low profile, and why they published very little by way of opposing narrative, and certainly nothing of what one of the world’s most eminent biologists, Richard Dawkins, had to say.