18 Jun Fine unis for caving on free speech: Senator Paterson
Rebecca Urban — The Australian — 18 June 2018
Liberal senator James Paterson has called for universities to face fines for failing to uphold free speech, claiming that financial penalties would go some way to preventing the “administrative cowardice” behind the Australian National University’s decision to scrap plans for a course in Western civilisation.
As debate continues around the university’s contentious withdrawal from negotiations with the Ramsay Centre, Senator Paterson said ANU was not alone in caving to pressure from “ideological interest groups” and it was up to the federal government to ensure that universities’ financial interests were aligned with “upholding values of intellectual freedom, free speech and viewpoint diversity”.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who oversees the university sector, which will receive $17 billion in government funding this year, did not rule out the proposal.
“With funding for higher education at record levels, taxpayers and the broader community rightly expect that our universities uphold the values and standards of free speech and academic freedom,” Senator Birmingham said.
“I welcome debate and ideas on how our universities can be further held to account for upholding the expectations placed upon them by taxpayers and students.”
In an opinion article in The Australian today, Senator Paterson also takes issue with ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt’s claim that his decision to withdraw from negotiations with the Ramsay Centre resulted from concerns over academic autonomy, pointing out that the university does not have a stand-alone policy dedicated to upholding free intellectual inquiry.
This was despite amendments to the Higher Education Support Act in 2011 requiring universities to have a policy around upholding free intellectual inquiry.
Senator Paterson refers to an audit of university campuses conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs last year that found only eight of Australia’s 42 universities have such a policy.
“ For all its talk of academic freedom, the ANU is not among them,’’ he says. “Clearly, the existence of this requirement isn’t enough to counteract the pressure that university administrators face from the angry minority hell-bent on enforcing their ideological hegemony.
“Only imposing real, financial consequences will bring an end to the kind of administrative cowardice that was epitomised in the ANU’s decision to cancel their proposed course on Western civilisation.”
Senator Paterson is the latest politician to criticise ANU, which has previously accepted donations from the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran, to fund its Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies.
Institute of Public Affairs research fellow Matthew Lesh, who conducted the latest free-speech-on-campus audit, said the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency had failed to enforce the legal requirement that universities have a policy that upholds free intellectual inquiry.
“It is time that TEQSA put Australia’s universities on notice that their social licence and billions in public funding depends on upholding free intellectual inquiry,” Mr Lesh said.
ANU did not respond to requests for comment.
This article originally appeared inThe Australian.