Passing Bull 153 – Punishing universities


The Australian today had a piece by Senator James Patterson.  The headline was:


It included the following.

The Australian National University’s decision to cancel plans for a bachelor of Western civilisation has highlighted the rampant anti-Western bias that exists at many Australian universities.

But the administration’s decision to cave in to internal pressure should have surprised no one. It is merely the latest in a long line of incidents that expose the perverse incentive structure Australian universities face. Because of this, universities will almost always abandon intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity whenever it brings them into conflict with the vocal minority of ideological enforcers who believe our universities belong to them.

Clearly, the existence of this requirement isn’t enough to counteract the pressure that university administrators face from an angry minority hell-bent on enforcing its ideological hegemony. In order to strengthen their hand, the government should directly tie funding to compliance with the requirement to uphold the fundamental values of free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.

Only imposing real, financial consequences will bring an end to the kind administrative cowardice that was epitomised by the ANU’s decision to cancel its proposed course on Western civilisation.

The article may or may not have warranted the headline.  But it certainly says that the government should impose ‘real financial consequences’ if universities fail ‘to uphold the fundamental values of free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.’  It would be idle to contend that this adverse financial result’ does not involve a form of fine, penalty or punishment.  The Senator wants this adverse financial result to deter universities from a certain kind of conduct.  And the conduct that the senator wants the government to deter universities from is failing to toe the government line on ‘free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.’

The senator doesn’t say what form of process should be followed to impose or enforce such a deterrent.  Presumably, he does not envisage a criminal sanction imposed after a hearing before a judge with or without a jury.  But I expect that he would allow that any adverse administrative decision would have to be made after due process – that is to say, after a hearing of the allegation by the government and the response to that allegation by the university – and subject to judicial review or review on the merits by the AAT.  As recipes for corporate seizure go, that will be hard to beat.  And what a birthday for lawyers and bull-artists.

The more fundamental issue is that to preserve what the senator calls ‘free speech’ and ‘academic freedom,’ he wants the government to penalise a university that chooses to speak freely and to preserve academic freedom – if the university acts in such a way that the government does not approve of.

It is arrant, childish nonsense to say that to preserve free speech we must penalise it.  Even the great evangelist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would have ducked that one.  The senator takes as his text the decision of the ANU on ‘western civilisation.’  Presumably, he would also like to deter universities who do not wish to follow the party line on another bête noire of the IPA, s 18C.  The reaction of the ideologically committed to the decision of the ANU proves – at least to my mind – that they acted correctly in seeking to keep their university free of the type of propaganda advocated by these zealots – who choose to boast of their zeal for propaganda in Quadrant.

The senator has been there for about five minutes.  He could do us all a big favour by going off to get a real job for twenty years or so and coming back when he has grown up.  If our universities are to be criticised, it is for unleashing on us people like the senator, and the lady with the piece above his, Jennifer Oriel.  Her piece is at once as disturbing but predictable as that of the senator.


Premier Daniel Andrews posted a series of tweets yesterday in which he said women were not responsible for the decisions of men who attacked them.

His comments came after a senior Victoria Police officer was criticised for suggesting women had to take responsibility for their own protection.

‘Eurydice died because of her attacker’s decisions — not because of her own,’ Mr Andrews wrote. ‘And we need to accept that fact … We’ll never change a thing until we do.’

‘We’ll never change this culture of violence against women’.

‘Stay home. Or don’t. Go out with friends at night. Or don’t. Go about your day exactly as you intend, on your terms. Because women don’t need to change their behaviour — men do.

The Australian, 16 June, 2018.

The Premier is indulging the either/or fallacy – if there are two possible causes of an event, you have to choose one to the exclusion of the other.  He also appears to think that we can change human nature.  That’s as silly as saying that we have the right to walk home safely.

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