Marlene Campbell: the Dreyfus case of New Zealand education
[This posting was written a number of years ago. It is now dedicated to the Southland Times which following the recent favourable Court of Appeal decision was for a few days lost for words but found them per usual (no doubt) by consulting with the ministry. It is a report riddled with error and farcical interpretation. The decision to sack Marlene was found unjustifiable because of all the things that preceded it you goofballs; why would the Court go into all that garbage when the wrongness of the sacking was as clear as a tui’s bush call? but in mitigation, you were probably listening for the dog whistle.]
There have been many potential such cases but this is the one that has come through; the one that has stayed the perverted course because Marlene Campbell has shown the courage of a lion not to fold. Might I say I don’t criticise those who did. The pressure to do so has been close to unendurable.
Let me say loud and clear the case against Marlene Campbell is a put-up job, has been engineered, opportunistically taken advantage of in an attempt to crush an outspoken educationist and to put fear into the system.
The general public and the media have been unable to truly grasp what has been going on in education.
Even in education itself there are those who won’t link the dots. They recognise that particular acts of political and bureaucratic bullying and bad faith are occurring, but won’t link them together to recognise that this government in education has been autocratic, anti-democratic, bullying, persistent in lying and distorting, and reliant on fear and propaganda to hold sway. They won’t conceptualise because to do so would challenge them to some kind of action, pose some kind of moral dilemma.
New Zealanders are loath to believe that an agency of state and its political leaders are not acting in good faith – especially in something as precious as education. They have not grasped, are finding it difficult to believe, that in the five years of the National government, terrible things have occurred.
In the advent of a change of government, there needs to be the equivalent of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal the past and allow bureaucrats and others to come forward to present some of the terrible things they have been instructed or pressured to do.
Let us see how this works out in the political and bureaucratic persecution of Marlene Campbell.
One important idea to hold onto throughout is that if Marlene has been at fault in any way, that fault has been largely manufactured, in that if it occurred at a school in any other circumstances, it would not cause a blip. In other words, the bureaucracies have gone on a fishing expedition with Marlene Campbell – but pulled in nothing of significance. Yet the financial cost to Marlene Campbell, the children at the school has been hundreds of thousands, then there has been the devastating distraction to the tenor of the school – also the cost to the taxpayer.
I don’t want to get submerged in detail so I’m going to concentrate on key junctures.
Perhaps I should add one more observation before I begin: what sort of principal is Marlene Campbell? Well, how can I say this? She is very modern. You would expect the ministry to be delighted with this, it’s all there knobs and all. Marlene Campbell is clearly willing to listen to policy directions, but just as clearly she wants to do it with a sense of free will – that seems to have been at the centre of why she has been so outspoken – she’s a modern Southern woman who won’t be pushed around. She’s a strong individual.
Key juncture one
In June, 2012, the schools regular ERO visit took place. On the second day Marlene Campbell was told that ERO intended to use the review to investigate anonymous complaints that had been made against her. Marlene Campbell asked for details so she could respond but was refused them; she was steamrolled, the matter was then simply reported to the ministry recommending an investigation.
Predetermination laid bare.
This was a put-up job. The matter was really a carry-on from the Ann Tolley regime. Hekia Parata and the ERO and ministry bureaucrats, though, proved only too willing to continue this terrible thing.
The moment the Marlene Campbell complaint letter arrived at the ERO, the opportunity was seized by the bureaucracies as manna from heaven – it was all over then; the letter was quickly passed onto the ministry, being well practised in what to do.
The Kafkan power of the intervention process is such that there is rarely a genuine problem beyond that manufactured by the intervention process itself, meaning that those complaining only need to keep complaining for the intervention process to produce the Kafkan situation of irrationality so deviously favourable to their ends. Once the intervention is in place, the question becomes not what the problem was, but whether the principal is perfect in every respect? And the principal, no matter how insignificant the imperfection revealed or how irrelevant to the initial ‘problem’, is always caught out, and much is made of that, and is a goner. After all, those making the judgement are those arrayed against the principal from the beginning. It seems the advice given by a character in Kafka should have been heeded: ‘The only right thing to do was to come to terms with the circumstances as they were.’ As such principals should ready themselves to have their vocations made to die ‘Like a dog!’ with the shame to outlive them.
ERO made no judgements as to the merits of the complaint because that might well have contaminated it with the odd fact or two; the intention, I suggest, being to keep the complaint free of detail so the ministry could provide its own, to be magnified beyond belief, mountained to a molehill, imaginatively reconfigured.
How on earth could anyone respond sensibly to an anonymous complaint, by definition absent of context, expressed in general terms?
This is unconscionable.
Key juncture two
Peter McDonald was appointed limited statutory manager. He did two things.
First, he announced almost immediately and without consultation that the only way to solve the matter was for Marlene Campbell to leave.
Predetermination laid bare.
Of course, Marlene Campbell refused.
Secondly, a teacher at the school who had, following due process, been demoted by the board of trustees with the agreement of NZEI, was reappointed to a senior position after what has the appearance of some very partial manoeuvres. Just like that.
Are you flabbergasted?
Then, amazing goings-on for a year and a half.
Key juncture three
McDonald in the year and a half that followed, in sinister mode, tried to find fault in Marlene Campbell’s behaviour; find facts, as I see it, to fit a pre-determined judgement – but failed.
The chairperson of the board of trustees and the board then became totally exasperated at the cost and terribleness of the situation so, to force the ministry’s hand, resigned. In doing this, the chairperson reiterated his utmost confidence in Marlene Campbell, declaring her a most wonderful and exceptional principal.
McDonald seems to have panicked. Out of the blue, he accused Marlene Campbell of a specific instance of bullying. (This was, of course, later utterly disproved.)
He put her on leave.
Four days later his term as LSM ended, to be replaced by a commissioner.
Key juncture four
The appointment of commissioner was the signal for frantic efforts to dig the ministry out of the hole it had dug itself into. That hole, however, only became a concern to the ministry when Marlene Campbell didn’t capitulate.
The commissioner said she would finish the investigatory process before the start of the school year. She failed to do so.
Marlene Campbell was dismissed on March 6, 2014.
This is all so terrible and unjust that it is difficult to take in.
So gross have been the actions that some actions also serious, but to a lesser degree, can gain an element of acceptance, which they shouldn’t.
Throughout the one and a half years, the bureaucrats have, almost without exception, refused to provide details of allegations – particularly unreasonable given that on the very few occasions when they have been provided, they were proved to be nonsense. The only charges remaining are unsubstantiated generalisations.
Significantly, in her final report, the commissioner pulled back from some of the allegations previously offered as the reasons for Marlene Campbell’s suspension and made some attempts to correct gross procedural errors.
The ministry case, by these very actions, lies in shreds.
Clearly, the delay in presenting the final report involved a going to and fro about how the report could backtrack without making the LSM, the ministry, and the commissioner look complete idiots. The final report failed, because they do.
Think of the harm all this has done to the fabric of education, indeed, New Zealand society – the tearing at the threads.
It is pure Kafkan in its terribleness – and it’s here in our little country. And all the time the local newspaper, in conjunction with the ministry feeding in its poison
The motive was malice; the process travesty; the outcome horrendous.
The politicians sat back, confident that no harm would come their way. Their plan had worked before, why not with this prime target? Send in ERO complete with anonymous letter murmuring mysteriously about matters needing investigation and then quickly hand over to the ministry to enable it to appoint a statutory manager who could proceed to take outrageous advantage of the assumption of good faith in authority. The process from there is well established: the principal muzzled; the statutory manager goes fault fishing; the principals position destabilised with occasional releases of information to various directions; the cost of the statutory manager is used to turn the school against the principal; time is prolonged in the hope that new elections would bring in anti-principal trustees; and, failing all that, wait for the huge legal cost to make the principal have to excruciatingly balance fighting for justice against welfare of his or her family.
But with Marlene Campbell things didn’t work out per usual. Hence the current situation. This dogged and brave principal deserves our help and support. This one is going to go all the way and while the commissioner, the Southland Times, and the ministry twist and distort – it won’t matter, Marlene Campbell will win.
I accuse the ministers and ministry of false accusation and misrepresentation of justice from lurid obsession. An overstated analogy? I say given the New Zealand context it isn’t, and given the elements of injustice involved, worth pondering. Anyway, if you were Marlene Campbell would you be splitting hairs?
The government and the education bureaucracies have declared deep and unrelenting antipathy to the idea of public education. When is the penny going to drop? When are we going to unite on enough is enough?