“When for any reason… the administrator of [a university] attempts to dislodge a professor because of his political or religious sentiments, at that moment the institution has ceased to be a university”. So affirmed the University of Chicago’s first president in 1892. Going on recent experience, it would seem that Australian Vice-Chancellors are pretty sanguine about their institutions not being universities any more. Following the 2014 Barry Spurr email scandal and 2015 Richard Kemp affair (in which I was involved), the Roz Ward controversy has once again required a university to adjudicate on the relation between academic work, the varied commitments and motivations of the people who do it, and the necessarily political context in which it is applied. The course initially taken by La Trobe Vice-Chancellor John Dewar – suspending Ward – was met with intense opposition. Support for Ward was mostly framed in terms of freedom of expression and its campus version, academic freedom. But this frame isn’t adequate: it’s not free speech, but universities’ overall purpose, which provides the grounds for opposing attempts to remove people like Ward.
This article was originally published by New Matilda. Read the rest here.