Gareth Evans on free speech, adapting to digital learning and why ANU rejected Ramsay

The University Chancellors’ conference is hosting a governance gathering in Adelaide, addressing university issues of the hour. ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans will set the scene this morning, with his usual expansive address, including.

adapt or be ignored: “There is a real prospect – particularly if university teaching methods do not adapt to the new information environment – of very bright students bypassing university altogether because they believe they can get all the instruction they need from online platforms, and learning by doing in entrepreneurial settings”.

on negotiating with the Ramsay Civ Centre: The chancellor sets out in detail ANU’s view on why  no arrangement for the centre to fund courses was reached, all of which go to his core point; “no university deserving of the name can yield its independence to the agendas of others, whether those others be governments or philanthropic foundations or anyone else, when it comes to staffing and curriculum and research priority choices. curriculum and staffing decisions.”

free speech is fundamental: Professor Evans is explicit in, “maintaining totally intact, with no qualifications whatever, the traditional idea of the university as the home of free speech, of the clash of ideas, of unconstrained argument and debate.” While he acknowledges limits on speech that apply everywhere; “causing not just offence or insult but definable harm – including outright incitement of racial hatred, or gender or political violence, intimidation or humiliation,” he explicitly rejects the idea, floated by Education Minister Dan Tehan, that opponents of a controversial speaker pay for campus security at an event.

“If we are serious about free speech – which must mean allowing views we might find abhorrent to be heard – it would be unconscionable to make either those sponsoring the speech, or those wanting to protest against it, to pay for their exercising their rights.  Of course we would prefer to be spending our scarce resources more productively, but bearing these precautionary costs ourselves, on the likely very rare occasions when they should ever become necessary, seems to us just to come with the territory.”

“The bottom line seems to me … . Learning to live with uncomfortable ideas, and responding to them appropriately, is part of the business of growing up. How can anyone cope with the world if sheltered from awareness of any views he or she does not already hold? Lines have to be drawn, and administrators’ spines stiffened, against manifestly unconscionable demands for protection against ideas and arguments claimed to be offensive.”


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