La Trobe University has suspended academic Roz Ward, the co-founder of anti-bullying program Safe Schools Coalition, ostensibly because she described the Australian flag as racist in a Facebook post. In the recent past, Ward had been attacked by right-wing columnists and the Federal Minister for Education Simon Birmingham for her ‘extreme views.’ Ward’s university colleague, Julie Rudner, discusses the ways that free speech can be curtailed in the corporate university.
My initial response to the news about Roz Ward was visceral. I was and am filled with fear and pervasive disquiet. Although I try to dismiss it with my usual cynicism about the neo-liberal business model of public education, I can’t.
I can’t drop the feeling because what happened to Roz Ward could just as easily have happened to me or any of my colleagues in Australia or overseas. Some of us are more eloquent than others but we all have opinions. For me, I am at my best when being facetious – but that requires a context to understand the critique. Sometimes I tangle my words due to tiredness or distraction, but only later do I realise ‘it came out wrong’ and could be misinterpreted. I have no control if others take my words out of context or give me the benefit of the doubt – whether it is online, on the tram or in the class-room.