29 May University of Queensland activist suspended for two years
Jocelyn Garcia and Matt Deninen – WA Today – Friday 29 May 2020
A student activist highly critical of the University of Queensland’s ties to Beijing has been handed a two-year suspension from the institution.
Drew Pavlou faced a disciplinary hearing on May 20 at the university over 11 allegations of misconduct, detailed in a confidential 186-page document, reportedly linked to his on-campus activism supporting Hong Kong and criticising the Chinese Communist Party.
The university ordered his suspension on Friday after the 20-year-old philosophy student and his lawyer, Tony Morris, QC, walked out of a closed virtual hearing before the panel last Wednesday, describing the process as a “kangaroo court”.
Mr Pavlou vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Queensland.
“I was six months away from graduation,” he said, appearing upset in a video shared on Twitter and Facebook.
“Now that’s been pulled away from me because I criticised my university’s ties to the Chinese government.
“This is now an indication of how deep Chinese government influence goes … I never thought it would get to this point.”
Mr Pavlou said he believed the decision was an attempt by the university to remove him from the UQ Senate.
UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese said on Friday he was concerned with the outcome of the disciplinary action against Mr Pavlou.
“There are aspects of the findings and the severity of the penalty which personally concern me,” Mr Varghese said in a statement.
“In consultation with the vice chancellor, who has played no role in this disciplinary process, I have decided to convene an out-of-session meeting of UQ’s Senate next week to discuss the matter.”
Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson welcomed Mr Varghese’s move to publicly take an interest in the case.
“It has done enormous damage to UQ’s reputation and sent the message free speech is not welcome on campus,” the Senator said.
“For the sake of everyone involved it’s time this farce was brought to an end.”
Liberal Member for Wentworth Dave Sharma also weighed in, tweeting: “I am glad the leadership of UQ has finally chosen to involve themselves in this issue, which is causing them untold reputational harm.”
The university has faced media scrutiny for its relations with the Chinese government, which has co-funded four courses.
The institution is also home to one of Australia’s many Confucius Institutes – Beijing-funded education centres some critics warn promote propaganda.
UQ has strongly rejected claims the matter is an issue of free speech, though a number of federal Liberal MPs have cautioned the university against taking hardline approach.
Its disciplinary board notified Mr Pavlou on Saturday it had found him guilty of general misconduct in relation to seven of the 11 allegations.
Under the university’s student integrity and misconduct policy, the penalties available for general misconduct include a written warning or suspension.
Mr Varghese recently became the first university official to publicly condemn a statement by China’s consul-general in Brisbane and adjunct professor, Dr Xu Jie, who praised the “spontaneous patriotic behaviour” of pro-Beijing protesters involved in a campus brawl last year.
Mr Pavlou was one of a number of people injured in the July 2019 incident and sought a court order similar to a restraining order against Dr Xu after his comments.
Documents released by UQ last week to dispute his claims the university co-ordinated its response with the Chinese Consulate showed the education provider was “more interested in public relations” than fair disciplinary action, Mr Pavlou said.