Compromised classrooms

Compromised classrooms

Jane Marwick – The Daily Telegraph – Wednesday 27 May 2020

Queensland University’s bizarre persecution of a student for speaking out about China is a warning to all An Australian university, so troubled by the actions of one 20-year old undergraduate activist student, has gone to extraordinary lengths to silence him.

Last Wednesday, Drew Pavlou, accompanied by his pro bono QC Tony Morris, walked out of a hearing at the University of Queensland, labelling it a “kangaroo court”.

The hearing was in response to 11 allegations levelled at the student in a 186-page dossier compiled by Clayton Utz on UQ’s behalf.

Pavlou reported that a representative from a second law firm, Minter Ellison, presented the case for his expulsion. Some of the charges are laughable, including one that details failure to pay for a pen that he picked up in the university bookshop, used, and returned without payment.

How the university knew about the pen is not clear, but Drew says he is used to being followed and “observed” when on campus. But why is UQ hiring top-tier law firms to shut down one noisy student?

I suspect that the answer is that he has uncovered just how close the ties are between the university sector via Confucius Institutes and their irresistible feepaying students, and the Chinese Communist Party. After all, you cannot separate the institutes from the authoritarian regime.

On July 24 last year, Pavlou, a human-rights activist concerned about the plight of Uyghurs detained in Chinese camps and intent on supporting Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement, organised a group of friends to join him at a peaceful rally, a “sit-in” on campus.

As the protest was ending, Pavlou’s group of about 30 was surrounded by hundreds of pro-China nationalist supporters, drowning them out with the Chinese national anthem.

Suddenly, several masked men appeared. Drew and his supporters were punched and kicked. Drew was hit in the head; his loud hailer and a poster were ripped from his hands. They were doused in yellow fluid that “smelled like phlegm”. One Hong Kong student was bitten. Police were called but no one was charged.

The Chinese Consul-General in Brisbane, Xu Jie, is also an honorary professor at the university. The CCP’s mouthpiece, the Global Times, praised the actions of the proBeijing activists, and named Drew as a separatist.

The paper announced, “Chinese consulate in Australia praises patriotic students for counter-protest against separatists”.

Drew’s pro bono Sydney solicitor Mark Tarrant says that in China, the charge of being labelled a separatist is “a capital offence, worse than murder”.

It was a call to arms, an incitement to violence. Pavlou was bombarded with death threats and terrifying abuse.

The university launched a lengthy investigation to no avail, although Drew has recently tweeted a photograph of a man he says attacked him.

Descriptions of the attackers wearing earpieces bear all the hallmarks of government operatives.

He suspects that the attackers had links to the Chinese Communist Party. – But rather than be cowed, Pavlou a continued his quest to expose the university’s ties to the Chinese government by way of undergraduate pranks and loud, sometimes rude but damaging social media posts invoking the entire of the university, and no doubt the CCP.

His fight for free speech included criticism of vice-chancellor Peter Hoj’s receipt of the 2015 Outstanding Individual of the Year Award from the Confucius Institute headquarters, known as Hanban, an organisation directly under China’s Ministry of Education.

The university’s website still bears the original news story with the smiling VC, sporting his medal and standing alongside the Chinese vice premier in Shanghai.

Then, on May 13, Liberal Senator James Paterson, one of Pavlou’s strongest supporters, revealed that Hoj was awarded a bonus of $200,000, on top of his $1.2 million salary.

Certain key performance indicators had to be met to secure the bonus, including an increase in the number of international students.

Paterson says “one of the pieces of evidence the remuneration committee provided for was that 63 per cent of commencing students in 2020 were expected to come from China”.

When I ask Paterson what he sees as the most important element of Pavlou’s fight, he struggles to choose just one. He says that Pavlou’s case illustrates that universities have compromised themselves.

“In the case of UQ, it has put itself in a compromised relationship with the CCP and is not adhering to its own values.”

That UQ chose to pursue Drew is curious and disconcerting. The question remains: why wouldn’t a university consider students’ wellbeing one of its primary responses?

The fact that after labelling Drew a separatist, Consul-General Xu Jie still holds his honorary position at UQ is difficult to fathom.

The university is under increasing pressure to relinquish his role. Exactly how much UQ is spending on legal fees is unknown.

Those who criticise Drew’s tactics fail to see that it is precisely because of them that he has endured.

A boy from a quiet, hardworking Greek-Cypriot migrant family may have looked like a pushover. Far from it. He was attacked. He was afraid. He hit back, hard. He courageously stared down his attackers and detractors.

Mark Tarrant is right when he says that Drew and others like him must be protected in their pursuit of the right to protest.

“It is re-establishing the rule of law on campus” he tells me. And so much more.


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