Campus censorship at UQ

The evidence is mounting that Australian universities are more concerned with protecting students from offence than upholding the free expression that once made campus life great.

Around a fortnight ago, a rally held by the no-vote campaign group ‘Our Vote, Our Voice’ at the University of Queensland made the national media when it erupted into an ugly standoff when same-sex marriage advocates crashed the event in an attempt to shut it down.

The rally started out as a fairly tame affair. The speaker stood atop a grassy knoll next overlooking a major thoroughfare and explained why he, as a gay man, did not support same sex marriage. His megaphone was loud enough to be audible, without blaring, and he was joined by a little over a dozen supporters.

Within minutes, the scene was stormed by protestors trying desperately to drown out the megaphone with their own chants.

I didn’t find the speaker’s argument that same-sex marriage would forever change the family unit all that convincing, and I’ll likely vote yes. Still, it was more edifying than the vicious, personal jeers from the protestors, who among other slurs, accused the speaker of suffering from ‘internalised homophobia.’

The unseemly stoush was unfortunate for what it revealed about both the ugly intolerance of some in the yes camp, and the increasingly febrile intellectual climate that pervades our universities. Rather than using passion and persuasion and to counter the speaker’s argument on its merits, the kneejerk response was to hound him into submission, and pathologize his views as irrational self-loathing.

But what happened next shows just how deeply hostile universities have become towards opinions that clash with the saintly wisdom of the campus hive mind.

In the days that followed, a student counsellor and Manager of UQ’s ‘Student Help On Campus’ took to Facebook to encourage students to lodge formal complaints about the rally in the hope of banning all future campaign activities led by no-vote activists.

He even drafted this template letter of complaint prompting students to describe how the rally made them feel, and why banishing all future rallies would make them more comfortable coming to campus.

It is a grim sign of our times that a mental health professional thinks teaching students that censorship is an appropriate response to encountering an opinion that clashes with their own worldview.

Notice the logical progression in the letter’s structure: the student’s feelings of discomfort and offence at bearing witness to the no vote’s message are set up as the rationale for why the university shouldn’t permit these kinds of heretics to have any voice on campus.

The University of Queensland has a proud history of campus activism; spanning the suffrage movement, Vietnam war, and the end of the white Australia policy. It’s not a former technical college that churns out business diplomas like cheap sausages. It’s a more than hundred-year-old sandstone university with one of Australia’s oldest humanities faculties. It is by definition the type of institution where you would expect free and frank debate on topical issues – not least the subjects of national plebiscites – to be allowed, and frankly encouraged.

That the counsellor not only saw fit to push for the censorship of one side’s argument, but also incite students to call for the eviction of no campaigners from university, shows how far the debate on campus has shifted from the traditional tribes of left and right. More accurately, today’s campus divide is between people who think there should be a debate, and those who don’t.

What’s lost on today’s campus authoritarians is that without freedom of expression, it is inconceivable that just a little over two decades after decriminalising sodomy, we would be on the cusp of legalising same sex marriage. Sure, the polls now suggest overwhelming community support for same sex marriage. But let’s not forget that in the broader sweep of history, this is an extremely recent development. The idea of traditional marriage as comprising a man and women has a lineage that traverses different religions, countries and cultures for millennia. Knowing this, it’s unsurprising that some are reluctant to adjust their outlook. After all, Julia Gillard – a self-described feminist, member of Labor’s socialist left faction and atheist – opposed same-sex marriage as late as 2013. The same goes for Penny Wong, circa 2010.

So how is it that a view, which until a matter of years ago was regarded as a self-evident truism, is now deemed so obscenely backwards and hateful that it’s at risk of being embargoed from the eyes and ears of university undergrads?

From the standpoint of the UQ sociologist who used his thin veneer of academic credibility to claim those who vote no are less intelligent than yes voters, it no doubt seems obvious that traditional marriage supporters are both intellectually and morally defective.

But let’s not forget that a decade and a half ago same-sex marriage was considered as a fringe idea, well afar of mainstream opinion. And without the ability of same-sex marriage advocates that advance their cause freely, that view would likely still hold today. The lesson here is that you won’t reap the rewards of free expression in the long run unless you’re prepared to accept all speech that runs against the grain of popular opinion. In this case, that includes the views of no-voters.

But besides all that, urging students to write a letter begging the university to make a group persona non grata because they dislike their views is setting them up for a life of misanthropy and misery. It teaches them their feelings matter more than another person’s freedoms, and, that contrary opinions are something to be feared – not grappled with, scrutinised, and understood. It deprives students of the intellectual growth and resilience that only comes through being forced to re-examine why it is they believe what they do. It fosters childlike brittleness at the very time young adults should be growing a thick skin.

The United States is a roadmap of where this kind of intolerance towards intellectual difference leads. It’s censorious, illiberal and ugly. Real progressives should reject it.

John Alexander

John Alexander is a student at the University of Queensland.

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43 Comments on "Campus censorship at UQ"

  1. A grassy knoll? Was there a second speaker or maybe a magic word as well?

  2. This is extremely concerning. Not a good sign for other debates over political issues affecting a large proportion of Australians that gain nationwide attention, no matter how contentious. We cannot, and we should not allow what is happening on American and some European university campuses, with a crackdown on free expression of political beliefs, no matter how noble or odious, to happen here. This situation needs to be reversed and reversed quickly before we pass the point of little to no return.

    • Can anyone start that jet were u r sitting ?????

    • A very mature and considered counter argument indeed.

    • Marriage Equality isn’t a political issue, it is a human rights issue, and the no camp have yet to put forward an argument that is worthy of debate. Why were the no vote protesters protesting at UQ? They are like a combination of the worst of PETA, pro-Brexit voters, anti-vaxxers, and pro-life fanatics. If you can provide any argument in favor of the no position (other than not liking change (ie: marriage has always ….) and it is a holy christian institution (its not, it predates chritianity by thousands of years), or its an abomination) I’d be interested to debate the subject.

    • I’m not taking sides. I am suggesting that these people have just as much a right as you or I do, to protest or to express their views in public without being told they can’t by anyone, be it campus authorities or self-appointed arbiters of morality like yourself.

    • Phil Keast , intolerant people such as yourself who clearly can’t be bothered informing themselves on any topic , and are therefore unable to understand how there could be any other position than their own, are a disturbing phenomenon.You have no interest in debate , which could involve some effort on your part — you just want to shout other opinions down , drawing on you supply of stock terms of abuse.

    • Doug Wynter, you’re mistaken. Comrade Phil is just laying out he wants substance from his opponent; rather than tired, illogical arguments.

    • I am not arguing in opposition to same sex marriage. I am also not arguing for it, Ruth. What I am arguing is that western society needs an open and free allowance of expression and debate or else we run the risk of losing our ability to make an individual and informed decision about something of political and social significance like this.

    • Ruth Ní Nuanáin, not liking someone’s argument is no reason to remove their right to say it. You of course are free to just not listen and move on by… easy

    • Doug Wynter I’m more than willing to debate. If, of course you actually have anything rational to say. Rational being able to differentiate between reality and brain dead conspiracy theories.

    • And of course, LibertyWorks, as Thumper Rabbit’s mother once said, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. And that would include derogatory comments from both sides of the argument. Calling a child “stolen” because both of their parents are the same gender is inflammatory, insulting, misinformed, and very hurtful to the child and parents. Just one example of where the NO campaign have hit unapologetically below the belt.

    • Phil Keast your request for a decent argument from the no side is reasonable except… It is the yes side seeking a significant change to the status quo and therefore this side of the debate is required to present a compelling argument for change. So can you make a decent argument for change that doesn’t include fairness, love, human rights ( it is not a human rights issue)? There are some excellent reasons to change… Can you identify any of them?

    • Phil Keast , you may kid yourself that you’re willing to debate , but abusive tone indicates that the opposite is the case.You will be aware that the LGBTIQ community has suffered from time immemorial due to irrational intolerance.You display the exact mindset that made their lives miserable , but have just swapped sides to go with the times in order to continue on the hatred and persecution bandwagon.Debate was of no use then , just as it would be of no use with someone like you now.That you fail to see any possibility of a contrary point of view to your own should be a warning sign to you — you are lining up with the fanatics.

  3. I recently voted “No” in gay marriage. But won’t tell people at university that. Too many vote “Yes” people head hunting for “No” voters.

    • And now you told everyone on FB. Ha ha ha …. I can see why you are a no vote ….. You are limited very limited …..!!!!

    • Gabriele Negri it’s ok to vote “No”. Don’t like it? Thats your problem!

    • Mark Rain It’s ok to vote no, if someone put forward a rational reason, but I haven’t heard one yet.

    • Phil Keast SSM want Safe Schools, which sexualises children, gender neutral bathrooms that allows men to identify as women so they can use bathrooms wiht little girls. People who won’t bake a wedding cake for a gay couple can be taken to court and lose their business.

    • Let’s try segregation again Ron. That’s proven popular and very successful in the past.

    • 2 can play that game.
      The no campaign want:
      Religious freedom, but only as long as you’re a Christian.
      Freedom to choose how other people live their lives.
      People being able to sack employees and evict tenants just because they’re gay… actually they want to go back to it being illegal.
      The forced indoctrination of religion into schools, even for atheists & agnostics.

      It’s ok to say no. Just don’t pretend it has anything to do with freedom.

    • Based on your most recent comment, Mark, I’d say no. It’s not okay for you to say no, because you don’t understand the question.

    • Phil Keast – please provide a ” rational ” reason for the yes side on the debate. Please note you have invoked the word ” rational” so no emotive words should be used in you reasons. Somehow I doubt you have considered the discussion rationally at all . There are good rational arguments for both sides. Unfortunately they are rarely given the light of day.

  4. Maybe it is time to clean out some of our universities.

  5. First they overrun peaceful rallies, then they get rallies banned (except their own), then they allow the socialist educators to clamp down and make it a totally left autocracy, and then there will be no freedom, no food and especially, no rallies, just like every other socialist or communist society.

  6. The disruptors of this rally clearly have no understanding of the basic principles of democracy ;
    they are instead alarming examples of adherents to other far more sinister traditions.The term ‘political correctness’ dates back to a time when failure to display it could get you thrown into a prison camp , or tortured and murdered.It is still as evil and intolerant as it ever was , and this is how it starts off.

  7. Well, at least they were allowed on the grassy knoll – had they made for the computer labs that may have been a whole other issue. Don’t you just love UQ.

  8. The ones calling everyone names and stifling debate are always from the PC left they usually hold Che Guevara in high regard ignoring his history of murder and rape and brand any of their detractors as nazi’s ? Maybe one mans dictator is another men’s dictator?

  9. Our lack of liberty in Australia is so bad that our uni students are only allowed to fire words at each other.

  10. There is nothing intellectual about how these people respond to differing points of view .It certainly doesnt augur well for those who choose law as a profession.People who do not tolerate different ideas may as well bury their heads in the sand because they are merely following the popularly voiced opinion of love and equality for all without even thinking about outcomes for the whole community.It is narcissism at its worst.!

  11. I assume this
    “It’s not a former technical college that churns out business diplomas like cheap sausages” is in reference to the Queensland University of Technology? Why go down the path of insulting another academic institution with your argument?

  12. But why would you knowing that by voting yes gives everyone in Australia equality? This Country will be a great place for our youth to grow up in when ME becomes legalised

  13. Instead the creme de la creme universities have filled up with the creme de la merde!

  14. I certainly hope the NO vote wins

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