Sunday, April 28, 2024

David Farrar: Vic Uni shows how under threat free speech is

The new Victoria University Vice-Chancellor decided to have a forum at the university about free speech and academic freedom as it is obviously a topical issue, and the Government is looking at legislating some carrots or sticks for universities to uphold their obligations under the Education and Training Act.

They had a great panel of five speakers, being:
  • Law Professor Nicola Moreham from Victoria University (expert on media law)
  • Emeritus Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland (activist and academic)
  • Dr John Byron from the Queensland University of Technology (former president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations)
  • Jonathan Ayling from the Free Speech Union
  • Michael Johnston from the New Zealand Initiative (former VUW Associate Dean)
There were 600 people keen to attend. The VUW staff also reached out to others with an interest in the area and had us do a two minute video segment with our views. It’s the sort of event that is so badly needed.

But it got cancelled, or at least postponed. Why? The Post reports:

Five academics and public figures were set to debate free speech on university campuses on Monday, but backlash within Victoria University has seen the event postponed.

More than 600 people had registered their interest in attending the event, a panel discussion about the role of universities in free speech.

But earlier this week the university postponed the event with a notice saying “the mere framing of this event has surfaced a depth of feeling and a polarisation of views on how we should proceed, that has made it challenging to even schedule a conversation about how to have challenging conversations”.

So what does that mean? We find out:

Student association president Marcail Parkinson said that context had not been clear and people “freaked out” when they saw the panel line up, which looked like a platform for “right wing voices”, with the involvement of Free Speech Union president Jonathan Ayling and the New Zealand Initiative’s Dr Michael Johnston.

She was glad to see the event was postponed and being reformatted. “That’s 100% the right thing to do in this scenario, when you make a mistake, to say actually we realise we made a mistake and we’re going to try and fix it.”

Student protests had been planned for Monday’s event, Parkinson said, and it remained to be seen whether they would go ahead for the reformatted event.

So the panel got cancelled because it had two speakers on there who might have right wing views (the same views the majority of the country voted for at the last election). Some (I bet very few) students were unhappy that two people whose views they disagree with would be allowed to be heard by 600 people who wanted to hear from them.

If ever one wanted proof of how free speech on campus is now a crisis, this is it. You can’t even have a panel discussion on the topic, unless it is exclusively made up of people with left wing views.

The forum is well intentioned, and I hope it still happens. But the cancellation or postponement has starkly shown more than ever that the status quo is unacceptable, and the Government does need to intervene to ensure universities live up to their statutory obligations around academic freedom and free speech.

David Farrar runs Curia Market Research, a specialist opinion polling and research agency, and the popular Kiwiblog where this article was sourced. He previously worked in the Parliament for eight years, serving two National Party Prime Ministers and three Opposition Leaders.


Ken S said...

I look forward to Bryce Edwards giving us an in-depth insiders analysis of this issue including why our vice-chancellors seem to be so utterly useless when it comes to these matters.

Anonymous said...

Shame on vic uni. Shame, shame Shame on them. Why don't they cancel far left meetings when we get upset or when the lefties vandalise and sabotage things we hold dear. The backlash is here folks, another nail in the lefties coffin. Great reporting David.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Now you know why I call it marxofascism.