The straight-talking senator teaching unis a thing or two

The straight-talking senator teaching unis a thing or two, by Janet Albrechtsen.

Amanda Stoker is Queensland through and through. By choice, not by birth. Stoker was born and raised in Sydney’s west; her father was a plumber and her mother did the books. Stoker moved to Brisbane as a young lawyer 12 years ago and hasn’t left.

She is no-nonsense, straight talking, her positions firmly premised on commonsense principles. …

This week, the mother of three girls under five hit a nerve at Sydney’s sandstone university. …

Stoker was questioning Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency chief commissioner Nick Saunders about specific provisions under federal laws that require universities to embrace academic freedom.

Academic freedom ought to be in their DNA, not our laws. Nonetheless, this is where we are today. Understanding what is at stake, Stoker raised a number of concerns with Saunders, including many university policies that prohibit “offensive” comments.

Saunders said he was uncomfortable with Stoker’s examples. “They certainly do not fit with the concept of a university being a place where ideas are contested and debated,” he said, agreeing to examine policies that undermine the legal obligations of universities to uphold academic freedom.

What seems to have gotten up [University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence’s] nose is that Stoker also mentioned an address last September at the University of Sydney by Bettina Arndt, who challenges claims of a “rape crisis” on campuses. Feel free to agree or disagree with Arndt. But not at Sydney University. Security had to call in a riot squad when protesters became violent and abusive towards students who wanted to listen to Arndt’s views.

Saunders agreed the behaviour of protesters breached the university’s code of conduct, and appropriate action was needed. That hasn’t happened. Instead, Spence told the SMH there is no problem with free speech on campus. He has accused those on the left and right as being as bad as each other.

This is a most disingenuous assertion. The world is a polarised place, to be sure. But where is the evidence of right-wing protesters trying to shut down events of political opponents on campus? Spence’s claim of both sides being as bad as each other was rendered comic when, in the same SMH article, feminist Eva Cox suggested we might need “short-term bans”, including at universities, to stop discussion of particular issues.

Way to shut down free speech. Way to make a martyr, too. Drive lunatics underground into dark places where dopey ideas are not open to challenge.

Stoker wrote to Spence on Monday: “I hope you intend to provide evidence of your assertion that ‘the conservatives are as bad as the progressives’ when it comes to campus misbehaviour. My research has found only evidence of the ‘left’ shutting down the ‘right’s’ right to speak.”