Fight for academic freedom continues

China’s influence on Australian universities will be the subject of a panel discussion at the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts on May 29.

Hosted by the Australia Tibet Council (ATC), speakers will include ATC director Dr Simon Bradshaw, director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, Dr Stuart Rees, China Studies professor Dr Feng Chongyi and Master of Human Rights student Sophie Bouris. The discussion will be moderated by Honi Soit editor Avani Dias.

The panel discussion follows a recent protest at the University of Sydney against management’s original decision to withdraw its support to host the Dalai Lama on campus. Although the university has since released a statement that said the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR) would host an on-campus lecture in June, protestors said there were concerns about academic freedom and integrity that still needed to be addressed.

Senior lecturer Dr Nicholas Riemer said management’s decision to ban the Dalai Lama undermined the university’s commitment to intellectual freedom and democratic values.

“Michael Spence’s original decision made this institution complicit with China’s brutal and murderous suppression of Tibet and Tibetan culture. This university is now complicit with that disgraceful position on the international stage,” he said.

“This institution is not a propaganda instrument of the Chinese state.”

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

The IDHR issued a statement that said the university and IDHR were looking forward to hosting the Dalai Lama on campus.

“The University of Sydney and IDHR remain firmly committed to the principle that academics are free to invite to our campus anyone who has a legitimate contribution to make to public debate,” a spokeswoman said.

The controversy began on April 17 when ABC 7.30 revealed emails between the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, and the director of the IDHR, Professor John Keane. The emails confirmed that the event, originally scheduled to be held at the university’s Seymour Centre, would be moved to an off-campus location and that the IDHR would not be involved in organising it.

That same day, the university released a statement that said no official request for a visit by the Dalai Lama was ever made to the university. It also said that the event would be held elsewhere because most students would not be on campus in June.

Following the ABC report, the ATC and Students for a Free Tibet set up petitions online accusing the university of bowing to Chinese pressure and calling for the Vice-Chancellor to publicly welcome the Dalai Lama. The university was also heavily criticised on its Facebook page.

In recent years, the university has been strengthening its links with China through its China Studies Centre as well as The Confucius Institute, which is partly funded by the Chinese government. Greens NSW MP John Kaye said the university compromised its intellectual freedom and integrity to protect these financial ties.

“It has sacrificed its integrity and reputation as a place of impartial learning to placate the Chinese government and protect the continued funding of its Confucius Institute and support from other agencies of the Chinese government,” he said.

Protestors held signs that said “China’s cash can’t buy Australia’s academic freedom”.

Speaking at the protest, Dr Rees said the Sydney Peace Foundation would welcome the Dalai Lama at NSW Parliament House on the morning of June 18 irrespective of the event organised by the IDHR.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *