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New Zealand Herald

Wednesday, August 20, 2003



Richard J. Evans: Academic standards the issue, not freedom

Three years ago I was asked by the New Zealand Jewish Council to read a Canterbury University dissertation by Joel Hayward and to give my opinion on its academic merits.

The dissertation, awarded a master's degree in 1993, purported to assess on the basis of an objective study of the historical evidence claims by Holocaust deniers that the Nazis did not deliberately kill some six million Jews between 1939 and 1945, and did not use mass gassings to do so.

What I found was very shocking. The Holocaust denial literature Dr Hayward was considering was well-known to specialists and others as anti-semitic, racist and frequently neo-fascist propaganda masquerading as scholarship.

Yet Dr Hayward not only treated it on an equal footing with genuine historical research but consistently denigrated the many historians in many countries who had carried out bona fide research into the Holocaust, claiming for instance that they were mainly Jewish (not true) and therefore produced tendentious and unscholarly work (which did not follow, and was also untrue).

He presented Holocaust deniers on the other hand as objective scholars searching for the truth, and concluded that in many cases the deniers' claims were justified.

Dr Hayward's dissertation was systematically tendentious and dishonest in its appraisal of the literature. I found evidence that he had suppressed material he claimed to have read if it counted against the deniers.

EvansI concluded that it was not a bona fide work of scholarship, and that the degree of MA should be withdrawn.

The university appointed a working party to consider the case. It concluded, astonishingly to anyone familiar with this area, that Dr Hayward's work was merely flawed, and that the degree awarded to it should not be withdrawn.


NOW Dr Hayward has left the academic profession. A new row has broken out, with his defenders, principally Dr Thomas Fudge, claiming in your pages that Dr Hayward has been the subject of a witch-hunt [Website note: Dr Fudge is a specialist in mediaeval witch-hunts].

In advancing his case, Dr Fudge has systematically denigrated my work and assailed my integrity and objectivity as a historian. He has also made a number of inaccurate claims about my report and the use made of it by the working party.

Dr Fudge is misleading your readers when he claims that no appropriate expert historians were approached by the working party. The working party explicitly accepted my expertise, and indeed could hardly do otherwise when I had shortly before been accepted by both sides in the London High Court case of Irving versus Penguin Books and Lipstadt as an expert witness in the field.

The working party accepted that my report has a strong scholarly foundation. It upheld all of its central findings, which included detailed evidence of selective and biased use of evidence in Dr Hayward's dissertation, failure to disclose contrary evidence, failure to pay attention to relevant secondary literature, tendentious interpretations and, to quote the working party report, being consistently misleading in the handling of relevant evidence.

The number of points that the working party did not accept in my 71-page report were few, and all very minor.

Dr Fudge claims my report was a partisan opinion commissioned by an interested caucus. He should be aware that while expert reports are customarily commissioned by one party or another in a dispute, the law insists that they should be objective, irrespective of who has commissioned them, and experts who have acted as advisers to court proceedings, such as myself, in the past, are fully aware of the need to be objective.

When I was asked to write the report, I made it quite clear to the New Zealand Jewish Council that I would carry out the work completely independently, and I required them to submit it to the working party irrespective of my conclusions.

The report was not edited or vetted by the council in any way.

The working party claimed that the language I used went beyond that normally used by an expert witness in a law case. It did not provide a single example to back up this unconvincing claim.

Moreover, this was not a law case, and I was not an expert witness, merely an external consultant.

It is not true of Dr Fudge to claim that the working party took little or no account of the criticisms made by Dr Hayward and his defenders of my report. On the contrary, it gave them full consideration, and in almost every case upheld my findings.

It is completely untrue of Dr Fudge to claim that the report makes no reference to extenuating circumstances, qualifications about the nature of Dr Hayward's preliminary research exercise go unnoted, and Dr Hayward is treated as though the thesis in question was the culminating work of a long career rather than an inaugural effort.

These astonishing claims make me wonder if Dr Fudge has read my report at all.

Let me quote directly from my report:

"Clearly we are not dealing here with deliberate and repeated falsification and manipulation of the historical record of the sort undertaken over the years for example by David Irving. Nor does there appear to be any racist or anti-semitic purpose behind Hayward's writing, such as the court documented in Irving's case."

My report made a particular point of noting that Dr Hayward's chosen subject was far too large a topic for a master's thesis. His supervisor was clearly at fault in not guiding him towards a more manageable topic, and also lacked the expertise to correct the numerous errors and tendentious claims present in the dissertation.

There were no procedures in place at the university to ensure that the topic chosen was appropriate for the level of the degree. Worse still, the regulations in force at the time allowed the supervisor to act as internal examiner, a clash of interest if ever there was one.

These procedural faults, as I pointed out, bore a large measure of responsibility for the fact that the dissertation received an MA degree with high honours. I am glad that they have since been rectified.

What has happened to Dr Hayward since is not my responsibility.

The central issue in all this is not academic freedom, because in dealing with Holocaust denial we are not dealing with academic work. It is, rather, the upholding of academic standards.

Nobody has stopped Dr Hayward or Dr Fudge from publishing what they have written. Whether it should receive the imprimatur of a respected university institution is the question at issue.

Richard J. Evans is Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge.





Our dossier on the Joel Hayward case | Our dossier on Professor Richard "Skunky" Evans | Hayward replies to this article
Canberra MP Rodney Hide signs petition calling on University to recompense Joel Hayward
July 2003, NZ Herald: "Holocaust thesis ruined my life says historian"
Report of the Working Party established by University of Canterbury to Inquire into Hayward Case | summary
Holocaust scholar at heart of 'book burning' row | 'Book-burners' feared libel suit
Joel Hayward thesis: 'The Fate of Jews in German Hands' (zip file)
The Fate of Joel Hayward in New Zealand Hands: From Holocaust Historian to Holocaust? Part I | Part II
Death threats and breakdowns - the Holocaust thesis destroyed my life
Aug 19, 2003: University chief's job in doubt. The position of Canterbury (NZ) University Vice-Chancellor Roy Sharp to be reviewed after Hayward scandal
© Focal Point 2003 e-mail:  write to David Irving