Universities shouldn’t be schools for spies

Image created by Lyndon Hood

It’s good to see the Tertiary Education Union (TEU)

come out

against lecturers being asked to spy on their students for the SIS.

Supposedly this is necessary to uncover students using our universities to do research related to “weapons of mass destruction”? But how likely is this in New Zealand? It makes one think our SIS might be operating, in this matter, as a branch office of some bigger foreign intelligence agency, maybe from a country where there is quite a bit of research on how to better produce their own weapons of mass destruction.

In New Zealand, as the TEU points out, the most likely result of the SIS edict is extra targeting of students because of their religion, nationality or ethnicity. Tough luck if you have to be a Muslim engineering student, particularly if you come from Iran or an Arab country.

Studying in a foreign country is hard enough at the best of times without worrying about your essays and assignments being scanned and sent to that country’s intelligence services.

Over the years, universities have tried to make their campuses a spy-free zone, to protect academic freedom.

Historically, in New Zealand the role of the SIS has been to spy on student dissenters and radical lecturers, not because they were breaking any laws, but because they were challenging the Government of the day.

I can testify to this from the contents

of my own SIS file

, which I received last late last year. In it the SIS shows concerns about my antiwar and anti-apartheid activities when I was a University of Canterbury student, and later when I lectured at Victoria University. There was absolutely no SIS concern that I would break any laws.

The TEU is right to preserve the universities as an open forum for ideas and research, without the intrusive presence of a politically motivated spy agency.

If the SIS wants a real target for investigation, why not look at the Auckland-based

Rakon industries

, which has had military contracts to provide shock-hardened and radiation-hardened crystal oscillators for American guided missiles, some of which may actually carry “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.