Article Title:Dr Webster's letter to the UNITEC Campus
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Published on:16th October 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:114
Text:CODE OF CONDUCT I was surprised and saddened when my attention was drawn to a letter in Gay Express newspaper from a UNITEC student who had apparently experienced homophobic behaviour from a lecturer and from fellow classmates. I was surprised because, in my nearly five years at UNITEC, this is the first time I have had recounted to me such an incidence of homophobia, and saddened because the kind of behaviour described in the letter diminishes us all. One of the constant pleasures of being part of the UNITEC community is its sheer diversity. We seem to attract people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, and outlooks who can live and work together in harmony, and who usually appear to be able to respect, and quite often to celebrate, their differences. We all have, of course, a perfect right to express well-informed views on any matter, forcefully if we wish, but temperately, and to expect others to respond in kind. Sometimes the views we express may be unpopular, or may challenge the prevailing wisdom. If you would like to debate GE, energy policy, same-sex marriages, the Supreme Court Bill, or the merits of driving State Highway 20 through the Oakley Creek Reserve, you can do so at UNITEC. That's called academic freedom, and it is an essential and accepted part of the rough and tumble of academic life. Like lots of people, I enjoy a good argument. Defending a position can be one of the best ways to gain an understanding of all the dimensions of a particular situation. However, to be worthwhile, any debate, however vigorous, must focus on the merits of the arguments being made, not on the personal characteristics of the individuals making them. Academic debate is a long way removed from the behaviour to which the author of the letter appears to have been exposed. Mindless prejudice, finding its expression in coarse caricatures and stereotypes, and playing to the lowest common denominators in our society, may, unfortunately, be not uncommon in some contexts. Talk-back radio comes to mind. However, racism, sexism and homophobia simply have no place anywhere at UNITEC. That homophobia should surface within a student group is disappointing; that it should apparently be promoted by a staff member is disgraceful. It is an old but true observation that those who feel most driven to mock, or even attack, people different from themselves are usually those least confident in their own identity. We have a Code of Conduct at UNITEC for a purpose, and I would encourage all staff members and students to check it on the website and consider how its provisions might apply to them. Everybody who chooses to belong to our family, students or staff members, should be confident that our primary focus will be on helping them to achieve their educational goals, that they will be valued as individuals for what they can bring to the life and work of our institution, and that they will not be the victims of ignorance and prejudice. The great majority of people here understand how important that confidence is, and work towards creating a positive and accepting atmosphere. We already have an effective and accessible gay and lesbian staff group, and I understand that the USU plans to strengthen the support they can provide to gay and lesbian students. On behalf of UNITEC, I would like to apologise to the student for the experiences he has related. The staff member concerned might also like to consider apologising for his conduct, and could do so confidentially through our conciliator, Glenda Grant, should he so wish. To end on a brighter note, I've had quite a bit of feedback over the past few days that reassures me that the problem is not widespread at UNITEC, and I would like to believe that the exposure given to this incident will help to ensure that other students are not subjected to similar traumatic experiences. Certainly it has focused our attention on making sure that staff members and students can get timely access to support, whatever their need. We have obviously let ourselves become just a bit too confident that "things like that don't happen here". Dr John Webster UNITEC CEO and President - 16th October 2003
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