Barry O’Farrell, the opposition leader for New South Wales, has recently written to the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University and to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging them to investigate and censor Khaldoun for being a “hate-filled,” “anti-Israel propaganda website.” A Macquarie University spokesperson, Greg Walsh, has provided the following response which affirms the university’s commitment to the principles of freedom of speech. Instead of calling for censorship of perspectives they disagree with, Walsh patiently observes, Khaldoun’s critics might better uphold the principles of democracy and free speech by engaging in reasoned debate on this site, or “better still start a blog of their own.”
With Greg’s permission, we thought it worthwhile to publish the entirety of Macquarie’s response here to clarify the relationship between Macquarie University and Khaldoun.
The recent case of internet censorship by the Chinese Government during the Beijing Olympics is a timely reminder that freedom of speech and access to differing points of view are not rights shared by all peoples of the world.
Throughout history, universities have contributed toward the development of democracy and freedom of speech in society by being places where academics could present and argue theories and points of view – no matter how controversial.
The academics commenting on the Khaldoun blogsite – which is not a Macquarie University site – are expressing their professional opinions on subject matter well within the area of their appointment: Middle East politics. The University does not either endorse their views, or those of their critics, our role is simply to ensure the University is a place where different views are tolerated and debated without prejudice.
A measure of the strength of freedom of speech in a society is its ability to tolerate the expression of ideas, even those that may cause some within that society to feel annoyed or hurt. The alternative – the suppression of ideas – only erodes free speech and democracy.
The University does not expect everyone who reads the postings on the Khaldoun blogsite to agree with them, that is the nature of debate – particularly in the area of politics. But rather than calling for the site to be censored, those with a differing point of view could always post a critical response backed up by their evidence, as others have done, or better still start a blog of their own. If they feel statements on the site contravene any specific legislation, then they should pursue complaints with relevant authorities. These are the sorts of measures that democratic societies provide in order to protect freedom of speech.
Macquarie University will not monitor the blog site or try to tell the blog’s authors what to publish or what views to hold. That would be the antithesis of what a university in a free society stands for.
Macquarie University’s Statement on Academic Freedom endorsed by the University’s Academic Senate in October 2006 reads:
The University’s value as an institution of learning depends upon its ability and its determination to challenge, revise and renew accepted ideas, its encouragement of vigorous debate, and its support for the development and testing of theories. For the University to fulfil this role, its academic staff must have the right and duty to exercise their own professional judgment in engaging in teaching and research, and to
disseminate the results of that research, without undue interference from governments, the University’s administration, the media, private corporations and other organisations.
Academic freedom includes the right and duty of staff to:
● Carry out research and disseminate and publish the results in a timely way.
● Play a significant role in determining the curriculum and the standards and methods of teaching.
● Read broadly and without fear of being judged on what they read.
Researchers and teachers at Macquarie University are bound by high academic standards, including a commitment to intellectual honesty, rigour in the construction of arguments, and the appropriate use of evidence. The maintenance of these standards is especially important when staff comment in public forums outside the university, including the media. Academics are not in the privileged position of being able to say whatever occurs to them on any matter whatsoever, nor are they entitled to inflict gratuitous damage on others, but when they act with high professional standards, researchers and teachers should be free to challenge the most fundamental values and beliefs of society in the spirit of open inquiry.
Students and staff should be able, however, to expect that their right to hold values of their own choosing will be respected even when those values are being questioned. Academic freedom carries associated responsibilities to exercise professional care and competence in the conduct of teaching and research, to subject academic work to the critical scrutiny of others, to consider the impact that one’s work may have on others, and not to impinge on the ability of others to engage freely in teaching and learning, research, and academic debate.
Academic freedom is fundamental to the academic work of the University itself. It is also emblematic of the values that the University stands for and strives to cultivate in the wider society. Teachers and researchers can only fulfill their obligation to society in a context of academic freedom. More than this, however, since the University stands for, promotes and defends the right and need of all people to have access to open debate, academic freedom is the enactment of the University’s commitment to society.