Reclaiming the Institutions 2: Universities defend free speech

Caption: Australian chancellors have a prescription for their students.

It seems inconceivable now that UC Berkeley was once home to a student ?Free Speech Movement? that defended students? right to free speech and academic freedom. Berkeley is, after all, the site of violent riots by left-wing bullies, determined to stamp out any speech they don?t like.

Australia hasn?t quite gone down the plughole of SJW lunacy as our American cousins, but the rot is setting in, just as it is across the Tasman. One of the biggest problems with American campuses is not just a generation of violent cry-bullies, but that administrators are enabling, if not actively abetting them. Campus administrators, Camille Paglia says, are spineless worms.

Thankfully, some of Australia?s university administrators have something resembling backbones. Quote:

Leading university heads have warned of the urgent need to take a stand against encroaching threats to free speech across Australia?s tertiary institutions, including US-inspired boycotts of speakers and classroom ?trigger warnings? about details that might upset students ? with one high-profile chancellor dis?avowing the notion that campuses should be ?safe spaces?.

University of Western Sydney chancellor Peter Shergold has warned that attacks on free speech are a relatively recent development in Australia and university governing bodies should be prepared to make tough decisions to defend the integrity of their institutions.

Speaking to The Australian following a robust panel discussion on the topic at the University Chancellors Council annual conference in Adelaide yesterday, Dr Shergold said his personal view was that universities should default to a position of enabling ?as much freedom as possible ? not to constrain, not to control?. End of quote.

It?s to my utter disgust that one of my alma maters last year became the first Australian university to introduce ?trigger warnings?. Quote:

Dr Shergold?s comments ? which come amid mounting concerns that universities are increasingly becoming closed intellectual shops, prone to groupthink and the censoring of diverse ideas ? were echoed by Australian ?National University chancellor ?Gareth Evans.

While Mr Evans has recently been forced to defend the univer?sity?s decision to withdraw from plans for a new degree in Western civilisation ? which was to have been funded by the John Howard-chaired Ramsay Centre ? he too slammed the emerging phenomenon of staff and students seeking to shut down debate under the premise that people should not be exposed to ideas with which they disagreed.

?We are hearing about ?no-platforming? ? disinviting or shouting down visiting speakers espousing various heresies; about the need for ?trigger warnings? ? alerting students to potentially upsetting racially, politically or ?gender-sensitive themes,? Mr Evans said.

?Most disconcerting of all, the need for ?safe spaces?, where students can be completely insulated from anything that may assault their sense of what is moral and appropriate.? End of quote.

If you?ve ever had the misfortune to be part of the leftist circle-jerks called ?writer?s festivals?, you?ll know that the SJW groupthink is spreading like a cancer. Quote:

Mr Evans said it wasn?t only universities that were at risk, referring to the decision by the Brisbane Writers Festival this year to disinvite former NSW premier Bob Carr and feminist Germaine Greer as ?absurd to the point of indefensibility?.

Joking that he was perhaps an ?unreconstructed child of the 1960s?, the former Labor senator and foreign affairs minister said principles of ?timeless significance? were at stake and university administrators and governing bodies ?simply must take a stand?.

?Lines have to be drawn, and administrators? spines stiffened, against manifestly un?conscionable demands for protection against ideas and arguments claimed to be offensive,? Mr Evans said. ?Keeping alive the great tradition of our universities ? untrammelled autonomy and untrammelled freedom of speech ? is a cause to which university chancellors ? should be prepared to go to the barricades.? End of quote.

These administrators also realise the dire societal risk of allowing this absurd authoritarianism to spread. Quote:

Steven Schwartz, a former vice-chancellor at three universities in Australia and Britain, said: ?Today?s university students will grow up to be tomorrow?s lawyers, politicians, and judges. For the sake of our democracy, we cannot allow a generation of graduates to grow up believing that there are issues that are too dangerous to discuss.

?Expanding the meaning of words such as ?violence?, ?aggression? and ?traumatic? to describe speech provides universities with a spurious excuse for censorship.?

Professor Schwartz said if universities failed to defend free speech, governments might intervene: ?I am sure they will not like the result.? End of quote.

Gareth Evans was part of the genuinely reformist Hawke Labor government, and generally one of its better performers. If he continues to genuinely defend free speech and academic freedom, it may end up being his most valuable contribution to this country yet.