The heads of universities across Australia have called for a need to stand against the threat to freedom of speech in various higher institutions across the country. This comes after recent development such as classroom trigger warning concerning details that students may find upsetting, the boycott of speakers inspired by similar actions in the United States of America, among others. One of the chancellors even went further to say that the notion of campuses being safe spaces should be renounced.
These calls by University chiefs comes as a result of the continued efforts of Australian Conservatives and Senator Cory Bernadi who have been speaking against the worsening free speech conditions on campuses. In one of such cases, Senator Bernadi was prevented from speaking at an event at Hobart University during a debate on marriage. Before then, the Senator had to face violent protesters at an event in Melbourne University.
For a while now, the Conservative Party have been raising issues dealing with matters such as:
- Erosion of free speech by the Chinese communist government-funded ‘Confucius’ Institutes,
- Censorship of debates in student elections,
- The adoption of trigger warnings at a Melbourne university
- The hostility to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation at the ANU, and
- The scandalous 18C case against Queensland University of Technology students for speaking out against racial segregation
The chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Peter Shergold warned that while attacks on free speech might be a recent development in Australia, the governing bodies of various universities must be ready to make difficult decisions as they strive to defend the integrity of higher institutions.
He made these comments at a panel discussion held at the annual conference of University Chancellors, held in Adelaide. According to him, it is his personal view that Universities should hold a default position of allowing as much freedom as morally and legally possible. The university should not seek to control or constrain. He said that while Universities should have safe spaces where students from all diverse groups, from Muslim to LGBTI can go to talk with one another, the university campus should not be a safe space when it comes to ideas. Rather, it should be an atmosphere for the diversity of ideas, and people should encounter ideas that they consider challenging. This, he said, is what the university is fundamentally about.
This comments could not have come at a better time than now when there are concerns that universities are becoming more restricted and prone to censorship of diverse ideas, a view that was echoed by Dr Gareth Evans, the Chancellor of Australian National University.
Mr Evans condemned the new phenomenon where students and staff seek to shut down debates on the grounds that others should not be exposed to an idea simply because they disagree with it.
There have been instances where speakers are shouted down, or even worse happens all in the name of safe spaces. While it is necessary to have safe spaces, Australian universities need to have viewpoint diversity which will help breed a free society.