David Fisher’s story indicates Jackson, who’s listed on the Otago University website as a professor of peace studies, thought he had the job in the bag. Then the Otago Daily Times ran a story about an internal review which described the university’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, of which Jackson was director, as having a “toxic” and “divisive” culture, with “deeply entrenched conflicts”. Whoops; not a good look, as they say.
Jackson was supposed to start in his new job at the NCREPCVE (don’t those initials trip lightly off the tongue?) on March 1, which happened to be the very day the ODT published its damning story. According to the Herald, that unfortunate confluence of events resulted in Jackson being “quietly let go”. Oh, dear.
But this is where it gets really interesting. One of the members of the panel charged with selecting an appointee was Victoria University sociology professor Joanna Kidman. Yes, that Joanna Kidman – the same one who ended up being appointed to the job herself, as a co-director alongside Professor Paul Spoonley. Fancy that!
Kidman’s appointment was announced on June 3, triggering a wave of astonishment and disbelief from people familiar with her inflammatory, derogatory and abusive postings on Twitter.
How did that happen? You might well ask. The way the Herald tells it, Jackson was originally chosen by the panel from a short list of six and interviewed twice. Then a decision was made to appoint two co-directors, and Kidman clearly decided she was eminently qualified for one of the roles herself (“Pick me! Pick me!”), at which point she withdrew from the selection panel and took no further part in any decisions. (Well, she could hardly do otherwise without making an even bigger mockery of what already looked like a grandiose display of government virtue-signalling.)
A new panel was formed, and – hey presto! They chose Kidman. But we’re assured her appointment was subject to the same rigorous assessment as other applicants. (Of course it was; who could be so mean-spirited as to suspect otherwise?)
But instead of Kidman being appointed alongside Jackson, the latter was told he “wasn’t suitable”. That’s apparently when “Distinguished Professor” Spoonley (yep, that’s his official title) was called in to serve as the second co-director.
There are two striking aspects to this. The first is Kidman's obvious self-regard, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her egotistical posturing on social media. The other is the unavoidable suspicion that she had the inside running because of her earlier involvement in the selection process - an inside job, in other words. It all looks just a bit too cosy for comfort.
Why the rethink about Jackson? The Herald hints that it was because the commitment to biculturalism at Otago Uni’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies under Jackson was found wanting. In the internal review leaked to the ODT, the centre was criticised for making only a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism and having a “poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols”.
That’s kiss-of-death stuff, especially when the appointment guide for the NCREPCVE “placed significant weight”, to quote the Herald, “on incorporating a Maori world view.” There’s your explanation: Jackson, for all his woke credentials, failed to clear the biculturalism hurdle.
There’ll be no such doubts about Kidman, given her outbursts on Twitter. If commitment to biculturalism is measured by the vehement denigration of people she disagrees with (the more so if they happen to have pale skin), Kidman has impeccable credentials. She’s a bully, a bigot and a blowhard – but that’s okay, because she directs her bullying and her bigotry at people who are white and privileged and therefore undoubtedly deserve it. (Kidman claims affiliation with Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Raukawa, although both her surname and her photo suggest there might also be just a tiny bit of Pakeha in her bloodlines. Are we permitted to mention that?)
A few examples of Kidman’s “shoot first and never mind the consequences” style:
■ She labelled the seven eminent academics who opposed equating matauranga Maori with science as “shuffling zombies” and wondered if someone had put something in their water.
■ She accused fashion designer Trelise Cooper of “perpetrating colonial violence in floral polyester” by supposedly naming a dress design after the infamous Trail of Tears – the exile of native American tribes from their homelands in the 19th century – when there was no evidence to suggest Cooper (whose design was called Trail of Tiers) was even aware of the event Kidman was referring to. “Accounts of Native women being raped by settlers and soldiers on the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk of the Navajo don't translate well into a fashion statement ... but hey, Trelise Cooper, guess you're making a living, right?”, Kidman fulminated. (Cooper of course apologised, not that it would have counted for anything. It never does.)
■ She made a direct personal attack on a Herald reporter, asking her if she was “still drunk” – this in response to a column that Kidman evidently disagreed with. (She should be careful; the late Warwick Roger’s Metro magazine once paid out $100,000 in defamation for suggesting a newspaper columnist was “perpetually pssst”.)
■ In another attack on her fellow academics, she tweeted about a statue of Sir George Grey: “nice example of historian-as-bigoted-dickhead to add to the pile of sixty-twelve million reasons why 99 percent of university historians should have a curfew and an ankle tracker.” That some of her posts are so choleric as to be virtually incoherent doesn’t seem to occur to her.
What’s yet to be explained is how the appointment of someone as splenetic and demonstrably out of control as Kidman could possibly be conducive to making New Zealand safer and more inclusive, which is supposedly the purpose of the new centre. An incredulous Martyn Bradbury reacted to the news of her appointment with the headline: “Ummm, isn’t Professor Joanne [sic] Kidman the worst person to appoint to an extremism taskforce?”
Her appointment makes the creation of the NCREPCVE far worse than the mere empty gesture it might otherwise have been. David Seymour got it right when he said “the problem with government appointing cultural enforcers is that the solution can be nastier than the problem”. (Christopher Luxon made no comment. Now there’s a surprise.)
Because Kidman appears to go out of her way to be aggressive and polarising and is therefore the very antithesis of what the centre purportedly stands for, the project has zero credibility and is doomed to fail in its stated purpose – not that this matters to a government set on a course of wilful self-destruction and apparently indifferent to the harm being done to social cohesion in the meantime. Moreover the process by which Kidman was appointed will reinforce the already overwhelming perception that a powerful and entrenched cohort of radical ideologues, acting with the government’s blessing, is moving the country in directions that no voters anticipated – still less approved – when they went to the polls two short years ago.