Free Speech On Campus Audit 2023

Written by:
10 August 2023
Free Speech On Campus Audit 2023 - Featured image

Australia’s universities are failing to protect freedom of speech on campus.

The Institute of Public Affairs’ Free Speech on Campus Audit 2023 is the fourth systematic analysis of more than 279 policies at Australia’s 42 universities. The Audit rates each university’s support for free speech by analysing policies that restrict expression.

In 2023, almost all Australian universities are hostile to freedom of speech on campus:

  • 38 of Australia’s 42 universities (90%) are rated ‘red’ for having policies that are hostile to free speech on campus, an increase from 33 in 2018 and 31 in 2017.
  • Four of Australia’s universities (10%) are rated ‘amber’ for policies that threaten free speech on campus, a decrease from 8 in 2018 and 10 in 2017.
  • Zero universities are rated ‘green’ for supporting free speech on campus, a decrease of one institution, The University of New England, in 2018.

The total combined hostility scores of all Australian universities has more than doubled since 2016. Notable examples include: 

  • The University of Wollongong’s Inclusive Language Guideline instructs students to avoid words like ‘man’, ‘ladies’, ‘mothering/fathering’ and ‘wife’.
  • Central Queensland University enforces a protocol that says, ‘direct verbal confrontation’ and ‘expressing disagreement’ with Indigenous people should be avoided to ‘preserve consensus’.
  • Bond University forbids posts which ‘can be interpreted to portray’ content that is ‘injurious or objectionable’ to Bond University.

For the first time, the IPA’s Free Speech on Campus Audit has scored every Australian university’s standalone policy protecting freedom of speech in terms of its inclusion of six pro-freedom provisions contained in the French Model Code. 

  • Only one-third (33%) of Australia’s 42 universities have adopted the six essential pro-free speech criteria contained in the French Model Code.
  • The institutions with the best protections for speech are the Australian Catholic University (+8), Canberra University, Deakin University and six others (all +7).
  • The institutions with the worst protections for free speech are Flinders University (0), the University of Notre Dame (+1), and Bond University (+1).

The culture of censorship on campus has been aided by policies that promote a specific woke agenda, thereby limiting viewpoint diversity and debate.

  • These goals commonly fall into three areas: Indigenous issues, environmental sustainability, and gender inequality.
  • Across Australia’s 42 universities there are now 77 policies or strategic commitments pledging allegiance to at least one of the three ideologies listed above.
  • Universities adopting a woke agenda as an institutional goal are in direct conflict with free intellectual inquiry.

To protect freedom of speech, it is recommended that Australian universities:

  1. Remove policies which undermine free speech.
    Freedom of expression is put at risk by university policies which prohibit a wide variety of speech including ‘insulting’, ‘unwelcome’ and ‘offensive comments’. ‘Shouting’, 
    ‘teasing’, ‘sarcasm’ and ‘name-calling’ are also forbidden at some institutions.
  2. Broaden policies which protect free speech.
    In many cases, free speech codes have caused further harm by codifying into official policy concessions that restrict speech deemed ‘unsafe’ by the reigning woke orthodoxy. Certain caveats in the French Model Code further restrict speech.
  3. Abolish policies which take a stand on ideological issues.
    Diversity of thought is weakened by policies that promote a specific ideological message (usually on Indigenous, environmental or gender issues). Universities adopting a woke agenda as an institutional goal are in direct conflict with free intellectual inquiry.

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