Attack on shoeless Kiwis costs lecturer job

An American academic missed out on a top university job because of a letter she wrote to New Zealand Listener magazine lamenting the Kiwi habit of going barefoot in public.

The incident has been highlighted in a new book which looks at the rampant "political correctness" that is said to infect many American campuses.

Erin Mackie, a lecturer in English and cultural studies, worked at Canterbury University for six years, and wrote the letter to the Listener in 2006. The letter (itself a response to a Listener article which made fun of a no-shoes/no-service policy in a Texan food store) described New Zealanders' public shoelessness as "not only backward and uncivilised, but dangerously unhygienic and repulsive to North Americans".

Trouble started when Mackie returned to the US. According to US author Cary Nelson, university staff had found out about Mackie's letter and decided it was an attack on the Maori people and thus racist. On those grounds, Mackie missed out on the job.

Speaking from New York State where she is now employed at Syracuse University, Mackie said that until contacted by the Sunday Star-Times she didn't know why her application at the university (which she wouldn't name) had been turned down.

Once directed to the book and the blog, though, she said she found the incident funny.

As an academic who writes about ethnicity, she said the debacle showed how cultural misunderstandings could occur.

But she still thinks walking around barefoot does have public health implications.

"That's why God created flip-flops – or jandals."

Sunday Star Times