Robert French is a former High Court chief justice and is chancellor at the University of Western Australia. In a recent speech he warned universities faced the risk of legislative intervention unless they provide a robust defence of free speech on campus. He also said the actions of university executives might be subject to the implied constitutional freedom of political communication.
“To the extent that universities, operating under the authority of acts of parliament which create them, make legal rules affecting freedom of speech, those rules would have to comply with the implied freedom,” French says.
This is the argument made by Joshua Forrester, Lorraine Finlay, and myself in our paper published in the UWA Law Review. I would like to think there is a bit of our influence in his remarks.
Universities used to be cultural institutions that preserved the great works and traditions of Western civilisation, including rationality and scepticism. They have traditionally been crucial to the growth of individual rights, respect for the rule of law and scientific progress.
Unfortunately, most of our universities have abandoned these noble goals and instruct their students to abandon them as well. As these universities lose respect for intellect, this attitude spreads not only to our campuses but also to the society at large.
One can provide numerous examples of the tyranny of political correctness that has spread across Australian campuses. Anyone who reads newspapers and magazines is surely aware of the politically correct terror that has overtaken our institutions of higher learning. But what the press reports is usually anecdotal.
The Institute of Public Affairs, by contrast, has conducted a systematic study of what is happening on our campuses. According to the “Free Speech on Campus Audit 2018”, 34 out of our 42 universities adopt policies that substantially limit freedom of speech.
As an academic myself, I have noted with great despair the sort of anti-intellectualism that has made its way into our universities. These universities have a particular reason for abandoning the intellect: the barrier that rationality places in the way of ideological indoctrination.
Law professor James Allan has said Australian academics, especially in the arts and social sciences, “lean massively to the left side of politics” and have a hatred for anything “right-wing” or potentially deemed supportive of Western civilisation.
Feminism, multiculturalism and postmodernism are all variants of left-wing ideology that divert public resources from real education and effectively miseducate the students.
Miseducation on such a scale is considerably worse than no education. The conscience and natural reason of these poor students are encrusted and distorted by the politically correct teachings of such ideologues.
Indeed, there are lecturers who see themselves as political activists whose teaching approach is to convert students to their ideology. The result is that intellectual rigour suffers and grades can be inflated so long as the students submissively accept this level of indoctrination.
Of course, the academic elite will deny there is any such problem. They will defend the status quo and claim there is no such thing as political correctness on our campuses.
In this context, conservatives are always referred as extreme or right-wing to distinguish them from the radicals of the Left who, we are to understand, are people who bravely fight against our “corrupt and oppressive society”.
And yet political correctness on campus is a very real thing and any deviation from its established norms results not only in personal abuse but also in outcomes such as formal or informal sanctions, administrative reproach, promotion refusal, denial of academic tenure, being sentenced to sensitivity training, and serious difficulty of finding an academic job.
Indeed, the silencing of minority opinion has been systematic in faculty recruitment and academic promotion across most of the Australian universities.
Such institutions are no longer bastions of academic freedom and excellence. It is impossible to think that academic inquiry can flourish where the intellectual apparatuses dominating these universities is built for intellectual repression and not for academic inquiry. This form of ideological imperialism has no place in an open and democratic society.
Augusto Zimmermann is a professor of law at Sheridan College in Perth and an adjunct professor of law at University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney.