Sean Plunkett’s mouth-frothing misogyny on Radio Live this morning has been well covered and deservedly so.
Another bizarre angle to his ‘argument’, that hasn’t had much attention, was that Catton shouldn’t be allowed to criticise New Zealand because she has a publicly funded job, working as an academic at AUT.
Last year I sat in on a bunch of Education and Science Select Committee hearings on the Education Amendment Bill. That’s the Bill which introduces Educanz, and also, will turn university councils into ‘slimmed down’ corporate boards rather than the broadly representative and democratic institutions they are now.
One of the submitters I heard there was Dr Phillip Catton, Eleanor Catton’s dad. He argued, like many other academics, that universities’ role as critic and conscience of society was going to be undermined by making their governance structures more corporate. Focussing academics on work that grows the economy and that’s readily quantifiable rather than more social or esoteric ends is exactly the purpose of this Bill.
Plunkett’s labelling Catton a ‘traitor’, as well as vilifying other academics who dare to criticise government policy, like Massey University scientist Mike Joy, is consistent with this. This is the authoritarian streak in NZ politics, with its implied message to public servants to shut up and get to work growing the economy and doing the government’s bidding.
But it’s more than just the university council section of the Bill that expresses this distressing view. Educanz, and its Code of Conduct for teachers, written by a group that’s accountable to no-one but the Minister is completely consistent. Teachers are public servants too remember, so what’s the chance we’ll be labelled traitors by Plunkett and his ilk, next time we disagree with the government in anything but the mildest terms.