Australia's universities are failing to protect free speech on campus. The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)'s Free Speech on Campus Audit 2017 is a systematic analysis of over 165 policies and actions at Australia's 42 universities. The Audit rates each university's support for free speech through analysis of policies and actions that limit the diversity of ideas on campus.
Key findings of the Audit are:
• The majority of Australia's universities limit the diversity of ideas on campus:
Thirty-four of Australia's 42 universities (81 per cent) received a Red rating for policies and actions that are hostile to free speech on campus, an increase from 33 in 2016.
Seven of Australia's universities (17 per cent) received an Amber rating for policies and actions that threaten free speech on campus.
One university, the University of New England, received a Green rating for supporting free speech on campus.
• Just eight of Australia's 42 universities (19 per cent) have an explicit policy that protects intellectual freedom, as mandated by the Higher Education Support Act 2003.
• There is evidence of increasing censorship at Australia's universities, as well as a growing number and scope of speech codes since the previous Audit in 2016:
The number of universities which have Red ranked policies has increased from 28 to 31 since the 2016 Audit.
The number of universities where there have been actions intended to limit the diversity of ideas has increased from 9 to 16 since the 2016 Audit.
• The institutions most hostile to intellectual freedom are the University of Sydney (36), Charles Sturt University (15), followed by James Cook University (14) and Monash University (14), according to the new Hostility Score which measures the aggregate number of problematic policies and actions.
• University policies prohibit a wide variety of speech, including 'insulting' and 'unwelcome' comments, 'offensive' language, and, in some cases, 'sarcasm' and hurt 'feelings'.
• There have been a growing number of censorious actions at Australian universities, including violent protests against the presence of speakers, venue cancellations for controversial speakers, students required to pay selective security fees, activist students demanding censorship of course content, universities censuring academics for their speech, students instructed to not express their viewpoint, and the growing use of trigger warnings.
The failure to protect freedom of expression is seriously imperilling the discovery of truth, the core purpose of Australia's universities; student development, which requires debate and challenge; and the future of Australian society, which depends on a tolerance and openness to debate.
In order to protect free speech, it is recommended that Australia's universities:
(1) abolish policies that limit free speech;
(2) introduce a policy that protects intellectual freedom, as mandated by legislation; and
(3) commit to the University of Chicago's sector-leading statement on free expression.