Firstly, it's clear and it's sad that we have people who lack the capacity to debate rationally.
Two of the nation's most well-known Covid-19 experts have lodged complaints against the University of Auckland, claiming the institution has failed to adequately protect them from "a small but venomous sector of the public" who are increasingly "unhinged".
The Employment Relations Authority has agreed that a review of Professors Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles concerns should be expedited - bypassing the authority's sometimes lengthy investigative process and instead going directly to the Employment Court, despite objections from the university.
In also waiving the fees complainants would normally need to pay, the authority said it was concerned about "uncontested evidence" the harassment is escalating and is expected to continue to do so.
Hendy's data-modelling expertise has been credited with influencing the nation's Covid-19 response. Microbiologist Wiles is a science communicator named the 2021 New Zealander of the Year in part for helping to "make the science of the pandemic clear and understandable".
For this, they have been bombarded with vitriol and deeply personal threats. Wiles has been subjected to "doxing" where private information is sought and shared online to intimidate the targeted individual.
Whether employers are responsible for protecting individuals who supply commentary in their fields of expertise, as in the case of Wiles and Hendy, will ultimately be decided by the Employment Court.
But it should follow that an employee who raises fears for their wellbeing, not to mention their personal safety, would be considered with the utmost gravity.
The University of Auckland told the Employment Relations Authority the two have every right to provide public commentary on the pandemic but they are not "expected" or required to do so.
That their concerns result from commentary provided which was unbidden directly by the university should have had little bearing on the university's response. A you-brought-this-on-yourselves reaction would seem untenable from any august institution.
Auckland University ordered an external security review which found "opportunities for improvement" regarding the professors' digital and physical security. The university's timeframe for implementing the improvements will continue throughout this year.
On the face of it, it does look as though the Employment Relations Authority has considered the academics' concerns more gravely than the university. This response has been further justified by the latest revelations from another respected pandemic advisor.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says he has endured a litany of personal attacks over the course of the pandemic, although he has not raised any safety concerns with the university.
The Wellington-based scientist says he receives the occasional phone call where a caller delivers a stream of abuse and hangs up but most abuse comes in the form of emails, averaging a few attacks by email every day.
He says the hardest to deal with were personal attacks from a small stream of people who persistently contacted him, and tried to undermine his ability to comment.
"Talking about how you look, or how you appear — they're obviously making quite a concerted effort to look at where you might feel a bit vulnerable."
No, the universities are not responsible for this nasty streak in our society, a small but menacing group of individuals who are unable to control themselves enough to debate without losing all decorum.
Robust debate around some of the most significant issues presenting us at this time are essential. Academics are key to informing our discussions.
The employers gain their prestige from these esteemed individuals who excel in their expertise and competencies. They would protect their buildings from the weather, why would they not safeguard their greatest assets from storms of spite?