Free Speech in Decline: IPA Free Speech On Campus Audit 2018

Written by:
10 December 2018
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Free expression at Australian universities is slipping even further, according to the Institute of Public Affairs’ Free Speech on Campus Audit 2018.

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.

“Universities should be the most free place in Australian society to explore ideas in the pursuit of understanding, truth and progress,” audit author and IPA research fellow and Matthew Lesh said. “Our universities are becoming closed intellectual shops. Those who express a contrarian view are far too often treated like heretics.”

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.

The audit also finds that just nine of Australia’s 42 universities have a standalone policy which safeguards intellectual freedom, as mandated by the Higher Education Support Act 2013.

University policies prohibit a wide variety of speech, including ‘insulting’ and ‘unwelcome’ comments, ‘offensive’ language, and, in some cases, ‘sarcasm’. Many universities maintain policies which forbid offending on the basis of political viewpoint or religious belief. There have also been an increasing number of censorious actions at Australian universities, including violent protests against speakers, venue cancellations, and sackings of academics.

“The recently announced Robert French-led review of campus free speech has its work cut out. Australia’s universities must take action to safeguard free expression.”

The audit recommends that universities abolish concerning policies, introduce policies that safeguard free intellectual inquiry and sign on to the University of Chicago’s sector-leading statement on free expression. If universities are unwilling to take steps to safeguard free expression, the audit calls for the Australian Government to introduce US-style free speech on campus legislation.

Download the Free Speech on Campus Audit 2018

Download the Free Speech on Campus Audit 2018 – Appendix 2: Full list of university policies and actions

For media and comment: Evan Mulholland, Media and Communications Manager, on 0405 140 780, or at [email protected]

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