23 July 2003
"Canterbury University's history department has made a weak, wrong-headed decision to suppress an article by one of its lecturers, dump the editor who accepted it, and destroy the editions of the magazine, writes The Southland Times in an editorial.
"In the absence of anything more than aggrieved silence from the hierarchy, the inevitable accusations that the university has succumbed to the "book-burning" tactics of the closed-minded stand unchallenged.
"In the now-destroyed edition of the history department's journal History Now, Dr Thomas Fudge examined the career-ending controversy that haunted Joel Hayward, who wrote his Master of Arts thesis on Holocaust revisionism in 1993 at Canterbury.
"It was, even by Hayward's own subsequent assessment, flawed. [But] it did not say what some of its more frothing critics accused it of saying: that the Holocaust did not happen.
"It did accept that Hitler was undeniably anti-Semitic, and that millions of Jews perished under the Nazi regime through various means. But the thesis concluded there was no unimpeachable evidence that the man himself personally ordered the physical extermination of the Jews, or that gas chambers were used systematically towards this end.
Inevitably, this argument caused hurt and outrage.
"The New Zealand Jewish Council called on Canterbury to revoke the degree. Ultimately, a university working party criticised the quality of Hayward's work and he agreed to an appendix modifying his findings.
"However, the enormous pressure that accompanied his public denunciation took a toll and he suffered an emotional breakdown, leaving his teaching post at Massey University in June last year.
"For his part, Dr Fudge has decided he cannot remain at a university that has "suppressed academic freedom" and says he would be a hypocrite trying to teach his students to think critically and ask tough questions all of the academic values that universities are about while his own department was destroying books.
"Quite apart from the ethical rights and wrongs of suppressing Dr Fudge's examination of the case, the university history department has made a dreadful tactical error.
"History Now is hardly a large-circulation publication. But Christchurch newspaper The Press is, and it has decided to print the article in edited form over two days. The first half, published yesterday, applied scrutiny from which the university does not emerge well.
"Dr Fudge, whose specialty is medieval dissent and witch-hunts, casts doubt on whether the working party properly considered the case for the defence of Hayward, particularly as it failed to respond to, publicise or accept as an appendix a 150-page defence dossier containing supportive submissions from academics.
"The case of academics like Dr Fudge, Dr Hayward and arguably that of the German Waikato University student Hans-Joachim Kupka, who was hounded out of New Zealand after being accused of Holocaust denial during internet chatroom debates suggest that the status of the Holocaust is becoming alarmingly close to sacrosanct.
"That would abrogate one of the important functions of our universities; constantly to explore and challenge accepted wisdom.
"It is not a good look for any history department, anywhere, to seem to be arguing: can't we put the past behind us?
"The much-quoted wartime exhortation "Lest we forget" is worth remembering. But it should never be interpreted as meaning "Lest we question."
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