Free Speech on Campus in Decline

Written by
13 December 2018

On Monday ‘The Australian’ reported on its front page the IPA’s Free Speech on Campus 2018, which finds that free expression is slipping even further.

The audit analyses over 190 policies and actions at Australia’s 42 universities. The total Hostility Score across all institutions, which measures the number of policies and actions that limit free speech, has increased by 82 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

‘The Australian’ report says:

Australian universities are becoming increasingly hostile to free speech, with 35 of 42 institutions promoting policies that limit staff and student expressions, sparking calls for the higher education regulator to intervene.

An increasing number of universities have developed policies that threaten free speech, going as far as to outlaw “insulting” or “unwelcome” comments, even “sarcasm”, while campus protests, typically led by left-wing activists, are on the rise, an audit by the Institute of Public Affairs found.

‘The Australian’ editorial says:

More universities have devised policies at odds with freedom of expression, some prohibiting “Insulting” or “unwelcome” comments, and event “sarcasm”, according to the latest in a series of audits by the Institute of Public Affairs. Only nine institutions (a fifth of the total) had policies explicitly protecting free intellectual inquiry.

The bland uniformity of Australia’s universities has long been cause for comment. Is it too much to hope that just one vice-chancellor may pre-empt the campus free speech inquiry of former High Court chief justice Robert French by adopting a University of Chicago-style charter, leaving new students in no doubt that they have come to a place where open intellectual debate is prized, not hemmed in by identity politics?

The audit rates each Australian university, and found that:

  • Thirty-five of Australia’s 42 universities (83 per cent) are Red rated for policies and actions that are hostile to free speech on campus, an increase from 33 in 2016 and 34 in 2017;
  • Six universities (14 per cent) are Amber rated for threats to free speech on campus; and
  • One university, the University of New England, is Green rated for supporting free speech.

See more in our media release.

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Evan Mulholland

Evan Mulholland is the Director of Communications at the Institute of Public Affairs

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