Again Tom Switzer, the executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies, a right wing ‘think tank’, spouts drivel. He starts off reasonably enough, with an excerpt from a report of the University of Chicago’s Committee of Freedom of Expression, which states: “The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed.”1 Although it is not mentioned by Switzer, the report continues: “It is for individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgements for themselves and to act on those judgements not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.”2
Switzer is not about free speech; he is all about making Universities give ‘safe spaces’ for the far-right acolytes to hear their messiahs without the intrusion of debate or protest. He states it is all about shutting down “dissenting (predominantly conservative and classical liberal)” voices; he says this in one of the largest circulation newspapers in the nation1. The irony is probably lost on him.
These free speech warriors are all bluff and bluster when it is one of their own being hauled up for racial discrimination, as Andrew Bolt was for indicating that some Aborigines were a bit pale3, but when a 9-year old girl decides not to stand for the national anthem, they are outraged4.
He complains about the supposed violent blockage of Bettina Arndt at Sydney University. In his piece, he states that she questioned “survey research on campus sexual offences” and suggested “that overly broad definitions of assault trivialise real crimes”. The University’s venerable student magazine Honi Soit stated “by allowing Arndt to claim that rape on campus is not prolific enough to justify a vigorous social and institutional response, we are further disempowering victims. … By condoning her claim that female victims have a culpable role in their rape by being intoxicated, we are impeding women’s ability to feel safe and supported when reporting sexual assault. … By implicitly blaming the victim and forcing women to change their daily behaviour, we enable the actions of men who have raped and continue to rape women.”5 No wonder there was a protest.
Next, Switzer goes after the universities for not giving residence to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and, in doing so, spouts the old right wing invention of ‘identity politics’. You have to laugh. Then he claims that protesting academics claimed that “teaching students about the rich history of western arts and letters will somehow offend the principles of diversity and inclusion on campus”. Then he goes on to list “the glory that was Greece and grandeur that was Rome, Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French and Industrial revolutions, representative democracy, the rule of law, and [laughably] the market economy”1. As I have related before, the Ramsay Centre is not about teaching, it is about promotion, mostly of European supremacism; members on the board include John Howard and Tony Abbott6. That should tell you enough.
Switzer seems unaware that we actually have places, other than the Ramsay Centre, that study western civilisation. One of these offers students courses in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, representative democracy, the rule of law, and the market economy. It is called Sydney University. You’d think he would realise, since he taught there.
For a supposed libertarian like Switzer, he seemingly goes against his own principles by saying that the government should enforce conformity, and if the universities fail to protect free speech, the government should fine them. This is especially because taxpayers “don’t obsess about ‘queer literature’, ‘rape culture’ and ‘racial oppression’”. What was that about free speech?
Switzer finishes off with a quote from Hanna Gray, former president of the University of Chicago: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think”. Precisely, and students of those universities can think and have decided that the right-wing agenda of people like Switzer is unacceptable in a modern democracy. He has previously argued for a return to Abbott as PM7; for the rejection of science8; rejection of same-sex marriage9; and for shovelling more money to the rich10. He published these in major Australian newspapers. If that is shutting down dissent, it has been remarkably unsuccessful. What Switzer really wants is freedom of conservative speech, without any debate. He simply wants acquiescence.