Flat White

Universities need charters of intellectual freedom

5 April 2018

7:40 AM

5 April 2018

7:40 AM

The latest politically correct madness at the University of Sydney — gender, race, sexuality, and class background quotas at the nation’s oldest debating club— is another demonstration of the extent to which ‘Unlearn U’ has mainlined postmodern identity politics.

It isn’t just the violation of core liberal principles of merit, equality of opportunity, and respect for the individual that is of concern — despite later day converts to the diversity agenda dismissing the importance of such ‘philosophical beliefs’.

What is also at stake are the foundational freedoms of speech and thought which universities ought to uphold as bastions of civil debate, rational discussion, and intellectual freedom.

Underpinning identity politics is an ideological agenda that seeks to shape, set and enforce the boundaries of acceptable, as opposed to so-called offensive ‘racist, patriarchal or homophobic or transphobic’ thought and speech.


This is creating a hostile and intolerant intellectual environment for students with the ‘wrong identity’: witness the Student Union-led a counter protest that took violent direct action to ‘unlearn’ conservative students who supported traditional marriage at Sydney University during last year’s marriage equality plebiscite campaign.

Australian universities are highly likely to follow the US path towards a full-blown campus free-speech crisis unless intellectual freedom is properly protected.

This should be the responsibility of university governors. But greater external accountability may be required, given the propensity of modern administrators to indulge in identity politics and view their mission as making universities less “old, white, male”.

Perhaps it is time to investigate requiring universities to sign up and comply with —  as a condition of taxpayer funding — a  charter of intellectual freedom, which could be based on the University of Chicago’s Stone Committee Report of 2015 on freedom of thought and expression at the university

Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

These words would serve as worthy credo for all Australian universities — if they are to remain worthy of that name.

Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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