Pay per view: financial penalties proposed for unis that ban controversial speakers

Universities that do not comply with legislated “best-practice” free-speech on campus codes should face ‘financial penalties”, according to Jeremy Samut from the Centre for Independent Studies.

In a paper released last night he proposes requiring universities to implement “a compulsory university freedom charter policy” which could be monitored by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, “backed by the potential threat of discretionary financial sanctions for proven non-compliance.”

“Implementing university freedom charters would take meaningful action — demonstrating the political will necessary to generate the essential institutional will — to stem the growth of an intolerant anti-free speech culture on campus and ensure universities remain true universities: bastions of civil debate, rational discussion, and intellectual freedom,” Dr Samut writes.

He argues “a free speech crisis on campus” results from “contemporary identity politics” and cites protests at a University of Sydney address by columnist Bettina Arndt and the University of Western Australia cancelling a booking by a US speaker as examples.”

“The apparent lack of institutional will within the university sector to take appropriate action to address free speech issues suggests that imploring universities to voluntarily self-regulate freedom of thought and expression is insufficient,” Dr Samut states.

University lobbies were quick to respond last night. ““Every day on campuses across our country, students and academics debate ideas freely, backed by a respect for evidence and encompassing a broad diversity of views. That is as it should be.” Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said.
“There is no case for the imposition of heavy-handed regulation and red tape – in direct violation of university autonomy – let alone the imposition of ‘compulsory freedom charters’.”

And the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson pointed out, “each of our universities has in place policies and procedures, in staff agreements, codes of conduct and university by-laws which are designed to ensure that free speech can occur in a respectful, safe and civil manner.  We have a strong tradition and track record of protecting free speech and the expression of ideas and will continue to so. We do not believe that the suggestion of government-sanctioned financial penalties is a constructive way to assist our universities in their commitment to providing an environment in which freedom of speech is protected.

There is also the issue of proportion with the paper itself noting that the “vast majority of those who work and study at Australian universities simply go peacefully about their core business of teaching and learning in a professional and respectful manner”. So, where’s the crisis here?”


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