Public institutions, politicians duck for cover over professor’s appointment

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Jun 15, 2022 |

Professor Dr Joanna Kidman, Victoria University

Public institutions and politicians are ducking for cover over the appointment of the director for the counter-terrorism centre.

Professor Dr Joanna Kidman leads the research centre for three years “to bring about social cohesion.”

But Kidman has attacked views that deviate from her own by race-baiting, social media pile-ons, authoring petitions & name-calling ‘offenders’ using the derisive term “settler”

Political commentator Chris Trotter said it was a “very disturbing appointment” describing Kidman as an “extremist.”

A high-ranking Victoria University staff member said her appointment was inappropriate. “I’m worried she’ll [Kidman] exploit the centre’s well-intended mission, reframing narratives in her ongoing pursuit of justice from colonisation.

Kidman is a recipient of tax-payer-funded Marsden fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council. 

Kidman and four other academics received a total of $859,000 in 2018 for their project He Taonga te Wareware?: Remembering and Forgetting Difficult Histories in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

So who is Kidman accountable to given her employment is reliant on large taxpayer subsidies?

Last week, the Royal Society of New Zealand Communications Director Tarah Nikora said the society couldn’t comment on Kidman’s Twitter behaviour as she “was not a member of the society” and decisions for funding were not directly made by the society, but by the Marsden Fund Council.

Nikora said Victoria University handles the funds on behalf of their professors.

But in a statement, a Victoria University spokeswoman said any queries about the awarding of Marsden funding should be directed to those who administer the Marsden Fund.

“Professor Kidman’s Twitter account is a personal account and not a University account. The University does not monitor the personal social media accounts of its staff.”

Minister Megan Woods’ office referred questions back to the Royal Society

“The University is committed to academic freedom and safeguards the right of its academic staff to express their views and opinions.”

Minister for (then) Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods’ office declined to comment saying “the Royal Society administers the fund and all funding decisions are made by the Marsden Council Fund.”

Marsden Fund Council Chair Professor David Bilkey

Marsden Fund Council Chair Professor David Bilkey did not respond to questions about Kidman’s online behaviour and tax-payer-funded accountability.

That responsibility was handed back to Tarah Nikora, who is also in charge of communications on behalf of the Marsden Council Fund, but didn’t disclose that during last week’s conversation.

“We’ve come full circle,” she said on the phone, also admitting the minister’s office had forwarded on our request for comment.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Nikora said  “from our viewing of the provided material, Professor Kidman appears to make no mention of the Marsden Fund, and nor is it the subject of the attached screenshots. It would therefore seem unreasonable for you to seek an opinion regarding the online behaviour of this individual, with respect to these specific Tweets, from the Marsden Fund Council.”

He Taonga te Wareware?: Remembering and Forgetting Difficult Histories in Aotearoa/ New Zealand has a dedicated youtube channel, but most videos featuring Kidman have, on average 100 views.

Nikora said YouTube views are not the primary research output to measure effective and significant gains in knowledge and skills for anticipating downstream impacts for the Fund, but wouldn’t say what was.

Last week, Free Speech Union Chief Executive Jonathan Ayling said “this appointment is absurd and reveals the ideological capture that is pushing forward an anti-speech agenda.”

“Professor Kidman has claimed that words are equivalent to violence and has been at the forefront of numerous attempts to silence others.”

“The Free Speech Union would unreservedly stand by her right to speech, but this appointment is simply inappropriate for someone who has so overtly used her influence in the past to silence others and remove their right to speech.”

“This is a political appointment aimed at furthering anti-speech policies that will hurt the vulnerable and further erode social cohesion.”

“We call on the Government to reverse this appointment and fill the position with a less censorious candidate.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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