Massey University reportedly tried to stop what turned out to be one of the most popular public talks in recent years.
The university has denied claims it tried to can the event, while organisers and free speech advocates are calling the talk a success.
Iti spoke last month at the Manawatu campus and filled two of the largest lecture theatres, with dozens of students turned away.
"Having a guest speaker pack out two lecture halls at the same time is unheard of," said co-organiser Dr. Steve Elers.
Iti was invited to speak as Centre for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation’s (CARE) activist-in-residence and spoke about the importance of decolonisation and combatting racism.
Prior to Iti's visit Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean Stephen Kelly expressed concerns underpinned by the recent Christchurch mosque attacks, but ensured extra security was on hand following risk assessments.
Sources say other Massey staff urged CARE to reconsider inviting Iti and kept conversations over the phone to avoid a paper trail. There is no suggestion that Stephen Kelly was involved in these conversations.
CARE promoted and reported on Iti’s talk and workshops but Massey’s official channels did not promote it, despite promoting previous CARE activist Sangeetha Thanapal.
It’s understood Massey staff rang organisers of Tame Iti’s event and questioned CARE’S value to the university and how they were spending Massey’s funding.
“They asked them how much money they’d brought in and how many publications they’d put out,” the source said.
“Massey didn’t want this event to happen,” a source, who Massive has chosen not to identify, said.
They claim this was similar to the Don Brash incident, where the former National Party leader’s planned campus talk in late 2018 was cancelled by the university.
Massey University Communications Director James Gardiner said at the time the cancellation was because of security concerns.
However, it later emerged in leaked emails Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas did not want Brash’s ‘racist beliefs’ reflecting badly on a ‘Te Tiriti led’ university.
Gardiner was “almost certain” there were no attempts made by university staff to stop Iti's event from going ahead.
The source’s claims were put to CARE, but it declined to comment.
Gardiner said CARE was so successful generating its own publicity the university felt no need to duplicate the effort.
“Many staff and students and visitors attended the public lecture, including me. I thought it was excellent,” Gardiner said.
Kelly told Massive that CARE had the right to bring it speakers that they choose.
"We only ask that they inform us if there is the potential for media interest or security concerns so that we can be appropriately informed and/or prepared."
The Free Speech Coalition commended the university on facilitating free speech.
“Massey University should be commended for its change of heart… by inviting Mr Iti to be its newest activist in residence,” said spokesperson Rachel Poulain.
“This follows an illiberal period at the University during which it has instituted censorship.”