Just to bring everyone up to date with what has happened so far, we have a YouTube video providing a summary of all the recent events.
It all started at La Trobe, where my first campus event proved pretty difficult with noisy protesters doing their best to drown out my talk. But at Sydney University demonstrators took things to a different level. The security guards were overwhelmed by the unruly protesters who blocked the corridor leading to the venue preventing most of the audience from attending the event. Our students were threatened, physically jostled, some even flung against walls by the aggressive crowd prior to the riot squad being called in by security to control the protesters before my talk could go ahead.
Action against Sydney University
I spent the next week putting together a series of letters to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence asking firstly that he return the security fee to the students because the security guards were unable to control the unruly protesters. My crowdfunder contributed to that fee.
But more importantly, I have asked that formal complaints be taken against key organisers of the protest. I have spelt out in detail the various codes of conduct and bullying/harassment policies breached by these organisers and provided abundant evidence, including video footage of these breaches. We have included witness statements from members of my audience who were bullied, abused and harassed by the protesters.
My newest video reveals who these key protesters are and gives a few glimpses of them in action. Plus shows some of the relevant university regulations.
This is designed just as a first stage. We have plans to follow up, with legal action if necessary.
Media coverage of the campus tour
Now for some of the media coverage in the past week.
Firstly a few paragraphs from an editorial in The Australian on September 19 commenting a wonderful recent speech by former High Court chief justice Robert French:
“Justice French, we concur: universities are the last places where freedom of speech should be suppressed so readily. In an address reported yesterday, former High Court chief justice Robert French hints the attempt to shut down politically inconvenient speech on campus may meet a challenge invoking the Constitution’s implied freedom of communication. Free-spirited law students, take note. Unfortunately, universities have pandered to the intolerant Left, enabling a politically correct orthodoxy in which competing views are pathologised as “hate speech” akin to bodily harm. Designated victim groups are accorded “safe spaces” to shelter from the injurious thought of oppressor groups. Life is too messy and interesting to be reduced to such a crude ideology. Its narrow formula for “diversity” leaves little room for individual integrity or political dissent.
Psychologist Bettina Arndt has launched a university tour to critique claims of a rape crisis on campus. La Trobe University at first denied permission for the event, then relented. Rowdy protesters rebuffed Ms Arndt’s attempt at dialogue, seeking nothing less than to silence her. At the University of Sydney, student organisers were told they would have to pay for extra security, which proved ineffective against disruption. In Brisbane, the riot squad is on alert for Ms Arndt’s visit to the University of Queensland next week. By accepting the equation between speech and harm, and imposing security costs on student organisations, universities risk giving violent activists an effective veto over speakers who challenge the PC orthodoxy. So far, despite the difficulties, the Arndt tour has gone ahead, but the US practice of “no platforming” shows the trajectory. At the heart of Ms Arndt’s argument is the interpretation and validity of surveys of sexual assault. If she is right, university leaders have been complicit in the creation of an unnecessary climate of fear and gender suspicion on campus. This is precisely the kind of issue where intellectual honesty requires students to be exposed to competing arguments so they can make up their own minds.
Mr French puts it well: “The scholar of the university expects vigorous debate about his or her ideas and that colleagues and students can be pushed to re-examine their own. The creation of better citizens is a by-product of educating students. That is to say, people who can take their place in public civic discourse, help to form public values and public policy, and to choose the officials who manage public affairs. This is not just about creating future leaders but responsible contributors to civic life.”
The response to all this from the Labor Party’s Minister for Universities, Louise Pratt, was to state that there is a sexual assault crisis on campuses and suggest universities need to be careful about allowing nutters like me the opportunity to speak about this issue. So much for free speech.
I also had a call from Dan Tehan, the new Federal Education Minister who is looking into what happened. Here he is talking to Alan Jones about it.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tehan’s discussions with Vice Chancellors on this subject. Tehan is now proposing a plan for protesters to have to pay for security rather than the people they are protesting against – here he is on ABC’s Insiders programme. (See from 8.39 to the end.)
I have sent Tehan my letter to Spence which provides all the evidence about key protesters disrupting the Sydney talk – showing it is quite possible to identify people who gleefully take ownership of the protest. Perhaps he will use this as a test case.
Tehan has also been floating the idea that universities could bolster their commitments to academic freedom and freedom of speech through a charter modelled on the one adopted by the University of Chicago and other US colleges. Among other things, the charter declares: “Although faculty, students and staff are free to criticise, contest and condemn the views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
The Australian then published a front-page article by Legal Affairs editor Chris Merritt reporting on my action against the key protesters, suggesting that this could force the protest leaders to provide me with a written apology and undertake anti-bullying training – both penalties spelt out in the University’s bullying and harassment policies. Attorney-General Christian Porter yesterday bought into the debate backing calls for universities to do more to protect free speech.
Next stops on the tour
In the meantime, we locked my next campus tour at the University of Western Australia on Wednesday, October 17 and the ANU looks like being set for some time in October. Both of these events promise to be pretty lively!