Australia moving on free speech at universities

Tom Switzer at CIS wrote:

One of the basic elements of a genuinely liberal society is . That includes the right for people to advance views others disagree with — even views that many might find unpalatable. Alas, many contemporary Western democracies are awash in movements — mainly on the left spectrum of opinion — that seek to shut down debate, suppress opposing views or insist that some groups are more deserving of a ‘platform’ than others. This is especially evident across universities in the US and Britain, where invited scholars have been shouted down by angry mobs clearly unable to mount an intellectual challenge. According to CIS senior fellow Emeritus Professor Steven Schwartz, a Knight Foundation poll of 3,000 American students last year found 37% believed it was acceptable to shout down speakers and 10% thought using violence against speakers was sometimes acceptable.

At this stage, and notwithstanding the recent attacks on Bettina Arndt, the attempt to stigmatise opponents into silence has failed to attract widespread support on Australian campuses. How long, though, will our universities remain immune to these illiberal trends? There are some disturbing signs, and in a series of articles in September we recommended how the governors of the universities could protect intellectual freedom with a Chicago University-style charter.

See Prof Schwartz’s piece for The Australian, Dr Jeremy Sammut’s piece that ran across News Corp and my own piece in the Fairfax press. According to Prof Schwartz — a former university vice chancellor and a recent recipient of the CIS McGregor fellowship — Australian universities would avoid the erosion of their public standing and advance liberty by adopting five rules:

  • Affirm the value of free speech.
  • Forbid administrators from dis-inviting speakers.
  • Discipline students or staff who try to silence speakers.
  • Remain institutionally neutral on matters of public policy.
  • Levy security charges on all speakers, not just those on one side of an issue.

In an upcoming Policy Paper, Jeremy will have more to say about university freedom charters. Let’s hope Canberra takes note. 

These would be welcome in NZ – especially forbidding administrators from dis-inviting speakers.

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