Otago academic receives Critic and Conscience of Society Award
Speaking truth to power is an academic responsibility Otago University Law Professor Andrew Geddis takes seriously.
Over the past few years, Professor Geddis has spoken out publicly on a wide range of issues, focusing on the way in
which public power should be exercised and speaking out forcefully when it has been misused.
For that work, the Gama Foundation, a philanthropic entity established by Grant and Marilyn Nelson, has awarded
Professor Geddis the 2019 Critic & Conscience of Society Award.
This award was established to encourage academic staff at New Zealand universities to act as ‘critic and conscience of
society’—as required under the Education Act—by providing the public with independent, expert commentary on issues
affecting the New Zealand community and future generations.
“If universities are to meet their statutory obligation—and it is an obligation, not an elective—they depend on academic
staff being willing to lift their heads above the parapet and engage in the cut and thrust of public debate in the way
that Andrew has done,” says Professor Pat Walsh, who along with Grant Nelson and Professor Steve Weaver is one of the
judges deciding on the award.
“Andrew Geddis has made an outstanding contribution to drawing public attention to instances of the abuse of public
power in New Zealand and to preventing its continuation.”
Professor Geddis believes the place of academics in our society is privileged. “We are afforded considerable time and
resources to do something not many others can: think widely about the world and the issues it faces. I believe that with
this privilege then comes a responsibility to use the fruits of our thinking to try and make the world a better place.”
The issues he has been involved with and commented on include denouncing legislation that prevented family members of
adult disabled persons from obtaining legal remedies for discriminatory treatment by the government. He also supported
the call for an inquiry into the issues raised by Nicky Hagar in his book Hit and Run and criticised the way Hager was
treated by police.
He criticised the legislative ban on prisoner voting; called for reform of the legal controls on using money to
influence election campaigns; pointed out the unjust consequences of some applications of the ‘three strikes’ law; the
police‘s unlawful use of a breath alcohol checkpoint to gather information about people attending an Exit International
meeting and advised those stopped on their legal options; called for Housing NZ to compensate tenants whose eviction was
based on meth contamination guidelines subsequently shown to be misleading; and called out then Deputy Prime Minister
Paula Bennett for proposing that police be permitted to search gang members’ houses at will for firearms and for saying
that gang members have ‘fewer human rights than others’.
“In these public contributions, Professor Geddis has not been the critic who carps negatively from the sideline,” says
Professor Walsh. “He has played a constructive role by consistently articulating solutions to the issues he has raised
and, although he is reluctant to claim the credit, some of his proposed solutions have been taken up and implemented.”
Established in 2017, the Award is accompanied by a cheque for $50,000 to be used for research purposes, which Professor
Geddis plans to use in collaboration with colleagues at Otago and beyond.