Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of weasels and evil HR directors

For various reasons I actually care about Massey University, so I was furious to see its shameful behaviour over Greg Clydesdale's immigration discussion paper. And my mood wasn't improved any by the release of the HRC's report into the episode.

Clydesdale's discussion paper is here. Worth a read if you plan to wade through the HRCs parade of euphemisms and finger-wagging.

The most pointless bureaucrat in New Zealand, Joris De Bres, has spent a shitload of our cash getting into an argument with Dr Clydesdale over this paper - an argument De Bres is ill-equipped for, given that his opponent studies this subject for a living. De Bres' report on Clydesdale's paper has just been released and is available here.

De Bres' arguments:
1. A newspaper report on the discussion paper..."prompted a considerable amount of misinformed and racially prejudiced comment." p5
OK, I'm sorry but that just isn't worthy of a response...

2. "Peer reviewers of his paper were critical of its academic standard." p5.
One might get the impression here that Clydesdale had submitted the paper to an academic journal that subjected it to peer review. That would of course be wrong - the "peer review" referred to here is by hatchetmen assigned to the task by the Ministry of Pacific Affairs, and someone assigned by Massey University to further its "review" of Dr Clydesdale's employment. This is not the stuff of which reliable peer review is made. I'm not sure on what basis you would carry out a "peer review" of the draft of a discussion paper in any case.

3. "Dr Clydesdale is selective in his quote from the Statistics New Zealand and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs Pacific Progress report." p28
The implication being that he's cut out information that undermines his case, as demonstrated by this paragraph from the report he didn't quote:

These difficulties were accentuated by the restructuring of the late 1980’s and 1990’s, which had a disproportionate effect on Pacific people, many of whom worked in industries and occupations that bore the brunt of job losses.

Since that time there have been considerable improvements in the economic position of Pacific peoples, particularly for some of the younger, New Zealand-born people. Overall, levels of education have improved, unemployment has fallen and there has been a move away from traditional areas of blue-collar employment into more skilled white-collar jobs. However, these trends have been occurring not just for Pacific peoples but also among the wider New Zealand population, and consequently there are still economic disparities between Pacific people and others. There are also some groups of Pacific people who may not have experienced improvements in their economic situation, such as the older, Pacific-born and lower skilled sections of the population. p28-29

Given that the restructuring of the 80s and 90s affected the PI population disproportionately for exactly the reasons Clydesdale outlines in his paper, it's hard to see how his position is undermined by leaving out this quote. I can't decide whether De Bres is claiming this point out of ignorance or malice.

4. Clydesdale based his paper on info from the 2002 Pacific Progress Report and didn't update it using info from the 2006 census before it was released - ie, his paper was based on "outdated" information:

The 2002 Pacific Progress Report provided a comprehensive picture of Pacific peoples in New Zealand at the time but is now out of date. Results from the 2006 Census have been summarised in Statistics New Zealand’s Quickstats About Pacific Peoples. p6

But for De Bres to score any actual point here, there'd have to be something in the 2006 census info to suggest Clydesdale was wrong. So was there? According to De Bres,

The available data generally indicate a trend of improvement rather than deterioration in Pacific peoples’ economic and social situation. p6

OK, how much of an improvement, and is that improvement more rapid than the increase in numbers of the Pasifika population population due to the birth rate and immigration? I'm picking the answer to that last one is "No," because De Bres is forced to fall back on

Pacific peoples suffered more than any other group from the economic and social policies of the eighties and nineties and their recovery from this major setback has taken time. Pacific peoples do continue to experience significant inequalities and addressing this situation must remain a priority. p6

I would have thought the first step in "addressing this situation" would be confronting the facts about it without running them through a euphemism filter and an ethnic Auto Da Fe. We should be thanking Clydesdale, not martyring him.

This issue of the "outdated data" is actually very significant. The accusation of using "outdated data" is in academic terms the only serious one levelled at Clydesdale. The report does give us Clydesdale's response to the accusation:

- Although he based his findings on the 2002 Pacific Progress report other more recent research and reports confirmed his analysis.

- The 2006 Census data only became available as he was finishing off his paper last year so he did not have time to include it. The Census did not reveal any radical improvement in the position of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. p36

In other words, the accusation is spin, nothing more. They've caught Clydesdale out for failing to meet best practice, and pretended it somehow refutes his findings. It doesn't.

The essence of De Bres' problem with Clydesdale is in the executive summary:

It is not a new truth that there are continuing disparities between Pacific peoples and some other groups in our society. No-one is denying that this is the case, and attending to these disparities must remain a priority. But it is also evident that Pacific peoples’ contribution to our economy, our culture and our society is highly significant and will become more so. This contribution should be acknowledged and celebrated, not demeaned or denied. p4

In other words, it may be true but he shouldn't have said it, because we should be kind to Pacific Islanders. To which Massey University's response ought to have been "Tough shit pal. An academic's job is to research the facts and present what he thinks they mean, not run a diversity propaganda show." Ought to have been, yes. So, what did the institution actually come up with?

First of all, that familiar, chilling bureaucratic pronouncement:

The university says Mr Clydesdale's employment has been under review since the complaints.

You see, Clydesdale may have academic freedom, but the modern university in no sense extends that freedom to giving the institution a bad name with potential fee-paying punters. The first rule of modern university administration is that academic freedom must under no circumstances put cash flow at risk. Thus we witnessed Acting VC Ian Warrington apologising for his colleague on 3 News, an unedifying spectacle that must have done more than anything in a long time to put academics off aspiring to administrative roles.

Massey's shame doesn't end there, though. Its publication Massey News featured a further back-stabbing for Dr Clydesdale:

Concern at the negative impact on the Pacific Island community following publication of a Massey research paper on immigration has prompted Massey’s Acting Director Pasifika Sione Tu’itahi to highlight the University’s efforts to advance Pasifika education.

I'm chuffed at the good work Tu'itahi's doing in promoting education to Pasifika students. However, the article goes on:

He says Pasifika people have contributed hugely to New Zealand’s sporting and arts successes both regionally and internationally.

By measuring people as economic units, Dr Clydesdale has presented a limited view of the positive role and contribution of Pacific Islanders to New Zealand society.

I'd love to know why Mr Tu'itahi imagines that a report looking at economic aspects of immigration should include blather about Pasifika types being jolly good at sports, but he doesn't enlighten us. I'm sorry, but this is academia - in an argument over economic issues, claiming that looking at economic issues is a limited view may be completely accurate, but it's also completely irrelevant. One imagines trying to claim that Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker was "limited" because it discussed the role of genes in evolution without discussing the glories of music and literature. There's simply no merit in that argument.

No doubt Clydesdale will be hounded from his post by the cold, calculating bean-counters of Massey University, in a repeat of University of Auckland's shabby treatment of Paul Buchanan. Oh, would that Mr De Bres were in a similar position...


Bryan Spondre said...

On this issue I agree with Chris Trotter:

"If the output of our universities is going to be limited to research which hurts nobody’s feelings, and ideas that ruffle nobody’s feathers, then we might as well close them all down, and spend the money on something really useful - like flames that shed no light, and weapons that inflict no wounds."

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Well done , Milt.

PM of NZ said...


Very well put. If only JdB could be placed front and centre..

KevOB said...

Clydesdale 11pp.
De Bres 69pp.

I spent 7 years working in Samoa and Clydesdales's observations that social relations are the major factor making for successful migrant achievemnt are spot on. Employers do not hire or retain those who are cultural misfits in their organisation or perceived to be so by their customers.
Polynesian education will continue to be a problem. It is culturally inappropriate for Samoans, at least, to appear to achieve beyond their titled betters. You will find the visible achievers with family names reflecting their titled associations. The Massey Pasifika head is an example The explanation that higher achievement is becoming apparent is no doubt because of the general lowering of the educational standards bar.

WAKE UP said...

Joris de Bres has done incalculable damage to this country by not having his Office face up to realities.


Excellent article PM
Academic freedom is certaily under threat in Helengrad.
Can't oppose the PClin, canwe?

Kathryn said...

As a postgrad at Massey, I am also concerned about the University's comments welcoming HRC and JdB comments. Why isn't the University standing squarely behind their staff member and categorically stating their support for academic freedoms. Massey has past form for this and a very dismal track record of employer-employee relations. I Hope Mr Clydesdale retains a good employment lawyer to protect his interests. Amazingly, I find myself in complete agreement with Chris Trotter. What is sad to me is the chilling effect it must have on the choices made by academics as to the areas they wish to research in. Does this mean that any research at Massey has to be approved by outside parties like the HRC?

Psycho Milt said...

Thanks for your comment, Kathryn. It's a sad fact that the modern university is all about the money, and by issuing a paper that may put off potential fee-payers, Dr Clydesdale changed himself from an asset to a liability. Massey and any other NZ university is merciless in response to such news - witness Uni of Auckland's treatment of Paul Buchanan. Of course, he'd potentially got them offside with full-fee paying foreigners, a far worse financial crime in the university's eyes than Clydesdale's.

Does this mean that any research at Massey has to be approved by outside parties like the HRC?

If anything, it's worse - researchers at Massey now clearly have to work out in advance whether their research might result in complaints, and censor themselves accordingly. Wouldn't fancy it if it was me.