17 Apr UQ takes on student over criticism of Beijing
Fergus Hunter and Max Koslowski – The Sydney Morning Herald – Friday 17 April 2020
Disciplinary action against a University of Queensland student known for criticism of the Chinese government risks becoming a political headache for the university as Liberal MPs publicly warn against any actions that would jeopardise free speech.
Drew Pavlou, an outspoken activist on human rights issues and critic of UQ’s strong ties to Beijing, faces a disciplinary hearing later this month and possible expulsion following complaints about his protest activities and comments on social media.
The university has presented 11 allegations of misconduct against Mr Pavlou, 20, arguing his activities breached integrity and harassment policies and the student charter. The university said he harmed its reputation, engaged in intimidating and disrespectful conduct and disrupted normal staff operations.
While the 186-page document outlining the allegations is confidential, Mr Pavlou said they included social media comments about the Hong Kong protests where he identified himself as speaking “on behalf of the university” as an elected student representative on the UQ senate.
Mr Pavlou said many of the allegations were “frivolous” and “petty”, focusing on satirical comments he had made in online forums.
“They have trawled through to find anything they can throw at me,” he said. “How many other students have posted risqué stuff online and gotten a 186-page document outlining complaints?”
He said the university was targeting him because of his political activism and wanted to intimidate him into silence or expel him.
A spokeswoman for the university said it expected students to comply with conduct policies and charters “that reflect both the organisation’s values and community expectations”. The disciplinary process was to deal with alleged contraventions, the spokeswoman said.
“The university rejects Mr Pavlou’s statement that the university’s process is an attempt to penalise him for airing his political beliefs,” she said.
Olivia Brumm, president of the student guild at the Queensland University of Technology, has reviewed the complaints document and said the university had highlighted a number of “absurdly trivial or obviously satirical” statements, compiling them “to make it seem like a significant case”.
“I genuinely think it spreads like a personal vendetta by UQ against one of their students and it really does bring into focus the issue of free speech and expression,” she said.
An online petition in support of Mr Pavlou had gathered 10,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.
Senator Paterson said he had never met Mr Pavlou and would likely disagree with him on most political issues but he was “alarmed by the possibility he is being punished for his activism on China”.
“I haven’t seen the allegations against him but they would have to be incredibly serious to justify expulsion. I would be gravely concerned if they relate to the free speech he has every right to exercise as a student, and I will be watching the outcome very closely,” he said.
Mr Wilson said: “The justification the university provides will be fascinating as they can be guaranteed any decision will hawkishly and aggressively scrutinised.”
Senator Stoker said freedom of speech was vital to universities fulfilling their purpose.
“If he were to be expelled for robustly expressing pro-democracy views about Hong Kong, that would be wholly unacceptable and cause to ask whether the uni is meeting the public purpose which justifies its public funding. That said, I don’t know the full details of the complaints he has been asked to answer,” she said.