Emails reveal lecturer tried to help student

By Simon Collins

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The Auckland University lecturer sacked for abusing a Middle Eastern student originally showed some sympathy to news of her father's death.

Further emails obtained by the Herald yesterday show that political scientist Paul Buchanan used more moderate language when 25-year-old Asma Al Yammahi first asked him for an extension on her assignment.

The emails also reveal that the postgraduate student had little understanding of what the assignment involved, supporting Dr Buchanan's later claims she was unlikely to pass.

Miss Yammahi emailed Dr Buchanan on May 22, asking for the extension because she said her father in Dubai had died the previous Friday.

She added: "Please can you illustrate further what does bibliographic essay? Should I do the essay on a topic which interests me?"

Dr Buchanan told her she must go to the university's medical centre and speak to a mental health counsellor, who could verify her loss and the stress it had caused her.

He added: "Having lost both of my parents in recent years, I can sympathise with your grief, but in the interest of fairness to the other students I am required to request certification that your request is legitimate.

I hope that you will understand this reasoning."

Dr Buchanan went on to explain that her bibliographic essay or literature review needed to analyse what various security experts had written on a certain topic.

Miss Yammahi asked to be anonymous when she first spoke to the Herald on Tuesday, but she allowed the Dubai newspaper to publish her name and photograph.

She sparked Dr Buchanan's dismissal by asking him for a deadline extension for an assignment because her father had died in her home emirate of Fujairah.

Miss Yammahi said he died on May 19, but her family did not tell her because they did not want to disrupt her studies. She found out only when her nephew, a student at Massey University's Wellington campus, came to Auckland to tell her.

"I was really shocked. I phoned my family and they didn't respond because they didn't want me to know this was going on over there."

Miss Yammahi said she could not get a flight home until early June.

Because she was unable to concentrate after hearing the news, she asked Dr Buchanan for an extension for an assignment due on May 29.

"He said to me, 'Okay, if you want to get an extension, go to the people in the health centre and get it because I want fairness between all the students'.

"I emailed my family at home. They emailed me the death certificate. I handed it to the people in the health centre." Miss Yammahi then emailed Dr Buchanan, at 6.13pm on May 30, saying she had the "extension paper" from the health centre and asking for an appointment to give it to him.

His reply, saying her "excuses" were "culturally driven and preying on some sort of Western liberal guilt", caused his dismissal after he returned from a visit to the United States last month.

The case has sparked an almost unprecedented flood of emails to the Herald website.

Many lecturers have supported Dr Buchanan's claim that Auckland University is accepting "poor-quality" and "under-prepared" international students. Some from other New Zealand universities shared similar experiences.

By last night 4073 readers had responded to an online poll, with 63 per cent saying the university was wrong to sack Dr Buchanan.

But Dr Buchanan said he was "deeply saddened" that his comment to Miss Yammahi about "culturally driven" guilt had turned into an argument about international students.

"It has nothing to do with the nationality of the student in question. It isn't just foreigners who do it."

Read the Gulf News story

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