Glyn Davis speaks out on real campus crises

The ANU conference on campus free speech kicked-off last night with an address by former University of Melbourne VC and present ANU fellow, Glyn Davis.

Professor Davis identified crises in universities, just not the one conservative critics argue exists.

Claims of a crisis require evidence.  A crisis means trends that can be measured, frequent examples that demonstrate consistent worrying behaviour, proof of an organised assault on an underpinning principle of public universities.

All are conspicuously absent. You cannot take isolated events and inconsequential statements and argue that some-how they sum to a case.

Around the globe there are real threats to academic freedom – oppressive new laws in Hungary and Turkey, tightening party control in China, the arrest of scholars in the Middle East, violent clashes between left and right on American campuses.

And there are issues closer to home, funding policies that make universities dependent on international students and donors, new security laws that circumscribe areas of research, overriding safeguards designed to make research funding decisions transparent and non-political.

These are the challenges to institutional autonomy and campus freedoms we should discuss, not some confected calamity.

Protestors do not consistently bully academics or speakers they find unacceptable.  Dissenting academics are not routinely driven from office by colleagues or critics.  Student politics continue on campuses across the nation without notable violence or acrimony. 

Trivialising a fundamental principle by tying it to meaningless ‘hostility’ tests is dangerous.

If requesting civility in a student code is an assault on free speech, what will we say when real dangers arrive? 


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