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Dec 6, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The Australian government has asked Robert French, a former chief justice of the high court, to review the state of freedom of speech on its higher education campuses. Here’s a closer look at at the situation, as reported by The Guardian.

“A Series of Controversies”

The government’s move was spurred by a recent “series of controversies” on Australian university campuses during which members of college communities were accused of quashing public debates. To this end, French will examine the framework which delineates freedom of expression and inquiry, along with campus codes of conduct and enterprise agreements. He’ll also weigh in on whether different policy options are in order.

Two Sides to the Story

Education minister Dan Tehan said, “The best university education is one where students are taught to think for themselves, and protecting freedom of speech is how to guarantee that. [...] If necessary, the French review could lead to the development of an Australian version of the Chicago statement, which is a voluntary framework that clearly sets out a university’s commitment to promoting freedom of speech.”

However, not everyone agrees that that change is in order. Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner said, “Some commentators on free speech at Australian universities have been very wide of the mark – jumping to the wrong conclusions or selectively quoting from university policies and codes. [...] These same conclusions would not meet the threshold test of academic inquiry — informed by evidence and facts. Despite these incorrect assertions, a wide range of opinions are freely expressed on campus – in the context of Australian law and university codes of conduct.”

Also worth noting is that while the education minister’s office said that Universities Australia had been consulted on the review, Gardner said the organization had not provided any input on the issue.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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