IT SHOULD BE A MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS
There is a growing culture of academic intolerance on campus at Australian universities. It's not restricted to Australian campuses though. It's a worldwide problem.
On 14th November 2018, the Minister for Education, the Hon Dan Tehan MP announced an independent review into university freedom of speech to be undertaken by the the Hon. Mr Robert French AC, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.
The French review was commissioned following protests against gender studies critic Bettina Arndt over her campus speaking tour during which she challenged claims of a rape crisis at universities. The riot squad was called into Sydney University in September after student protesters tried to block access to one of her talks.
The focus of the review was to assess the effectiveness of university policies and practices to address the requirements of the Higher Education Standards Framework to promote and protect freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry on Australian campuses.
The review into freedom of speech in Australian universities found no evidence of a free speech crisis on Australian campuses.
The 300-page report by former Chief Justice Robert French released on 8th April 2019 found claims of a free speech crisis are “not substantiated.”
While the review was called in response to the heightened concerns, Mr French concluded that a series of reported incidents "do not establish a systemic pattern of action by higher education providers or student representative bodies, adverse to freedom of speech or intellectual inquiry in the higher education sector".
He said the review was "instigated in part because of a perception" by some in government and the community of an increasingly restrictive approach on university campuses.
The report however, recommends universities consider a voluntary model code on free speech but argues that increased government regulation is not the answer.
It's odd, that an investigation that found no evidence of a freedom a speech crisis should then go on to make recommendations including that of a 'moral code'.
Mr French's model code, backed by Education Minister Dan Tehan, sets out principles that would apply to cases where free speech or academic freedom has been threatened.
The code would "ensure that the freedom of lawful speech of staff and students of the university and visitors to the university is treated as a paramount value and therefore is not restricted nor its exercise unnecessarily burdened".
It would also affirm the academic autonomy of universities and highlight academic freedom as a "defining value", guaranteeing the rights of staff and students to engage in free-flowing inquiry, commentary and discussion and enjoy freedom of association.
The code spells out protections from disadvantage, discrimination, threats, intimidation and humiliation, but states there is no duty to protect staff and students from "feeling offended or shocked or insulted by the lawful speech of another".
The idea is that the entire university should be a free-speech zone. The point of a university is to serve as a marketplace of ideas, to give students, faculty, staff and others the opportunity to hear different points of views. The choice then is individually theirs to either accept or reject those ideas.