Pro-Palestine camps: staying, going and who knows

Late Friday University of Queensland Chancellor Peter Varghese “reaffirmed”  that freedom of expression is “a foundational principle” for the university, but “antisemitism and other hate speech has no place on our campus.” 

The university Senate also backed Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry’s management of a protest camp at the university and consultations to “agree on a peaceful end to the occupation,” but added, “we cannot allow the encampments to continue indefinitely.”

And there is a definite deadline from Mr Varghese, “with examinations due to commence in the near future the University has an obligation to ensure that they are not at risk of disruption. Senate agreed that the Vice-Chancellor should take all appropriate steps to achieve this. Exams are scheduled June 1 – June 15, 

At La Trobe U however, while management directed protestors camped at the centre of the Bundoora campus to go, it added staff and students can “protest peacefully and respectfully” without an encampment. There was no deadline and as of Monday they were still there.

Late Friday Monash U’s Clayton campus broke up, although whether protestors or university staff did the breaking is unclear. 

But the high profile presences at Uni Sydney and Uni Melbourne remain. At Parkville, management indecision on what to do and when to do it appears reflected in a split in Council between Chancellor Jane Hansen and member Mark Leibler over the extent of anti-semitism at Australia universities.

At Uni Sydney, VC Mark Scott asked the Commonwealth Attorney-General if the “from the river to the sea …” was lawful and on Monday wrote in The Australian that criticism of Israel should not be considered anti-Semitism but that hate speech was not acceptable at the university. He had a bit of luck making that case on Friday when a full bench of the Federal Court found for the university in its case that it was correct in sacking academic Tim Anderson for social media content that connected the Nazi swastika to Germany.  Dr Anderson had won his case for wrongful dismissal in 2022, claiming academic free speech under the university’s enterprise agreement. However, he lost on appeal, with the court finding his comments did not meet ethical, professional and legal standards.

As to the protest camp, Professor Scott wrote “ as long as it remains peaceful, respectful and not disruptive to university life, it remains a legitimate protest.”



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