How does a university tackle the issue of freedom of speech on campus? By having a free discussion about speech – on campus.
The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) have come together to produce a TV program featuring some of the country’s leading thinkers on freedom of speech, in a panel debate chaired by UQ’s UNESCO Chair in Journalism and Communications Professor Peter Greste.
‘Cancel culture’, political correctness and commercial pressures are just a few recent issues that are often criticised for undermining individuals’ freedoms to think and speak freely.
Perhaps the most obvious threat to freedom of speech is a direct condemnation of public thought and ideas. When taken together, reports of sacked academics, violence at student protests, and cancelled speakers paint a grim picture of freedom of speech on campuses.
As hubs of thought and culture, what happens in universities often mirrors wider cultural trends.
This Think Twice panel debate – to be held on Thursday 7 October from 5.30pm – will question these contentious claims and challenge our assumptions on the state of free expression.
It will examine how these issues are also unfolding throughout Australian society, and help us to understand how we might tackle them. It will be a timely and important discussion, set against the backdrop of political and societal uncertainty.
“We realised that universities have been the focus of a lot of criticism and controversy around freedom of speech issues in recent years,” Greste said.
“We’ve seen criticisms about perceived limits to academic freedoms, foreign influence, controversial guest speakers, and so on, leading to higher education reviews and consultations.
"It seemed to make sense to reclaim the conversation, and make it the subject of the next ‘Think Twice’ episode.
“Our academic institutions are the well-spring of our cultural and intellectual life. What happens on campus filters out into the wider society as students find jobs and bring the ideals and culture with them."
"It’s also where the biggest ideas are often thrashed out. That’s the whole point of universities, after all.”
The panel will explore these implications on our democracy by dissecting claims of cancel culture, and the state of free speech online. The event will also debate the future of censorship and governance on social media platforms. This comes in the wake of high-profile bans and unchecked campaigns of disinformation worldwide.
The featured panelists in ‘Think Twice: Australian Universities and Freedom of Speech’ are:
- UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deborah Terry AO
- National Union of Students President Zoe Ranganathan
- ABC’s Online Editor of Religion and Ethics Scott Stephens, and
- Liberal Member for Goldstein Tim Wilson MP.
So, just how serious is the free speech crisis at Australian universities? Is cancel culture really stifling academic freedom and healthy, open debate?
How much do students and academics feel the need to self-censor in the face of social, political and financial pressure? And if they can’t think and speak freely there, what then for the rest of society?
‘Think Twice’ prepares to unpack it all. Make sure to stay tuned for this episode when it is aired on ABC.
This year marks 100 years since UQ first began offering journalism to students. To celebrate the milestone, Contact will be publishing regular features this year tackling the major issues facing the industry today, while celebrating the success of UQ’s journalism students, graduates and the School of Communication and Arts. Keep checking the Contact website throughout the year to view these stories.