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Source: ACT Party

ACT is welcoming Otago University’s new official position on free speech.

The University says its official statement will be used to inform updates to policies. ACT’s coalition agreement commits to requiring universities and polytechnics to commit to free speech policies, so it’s positive to see a university firming up its position on free speech ahead of the delivery of legislation from Wellington. ACT encourages other universities to do the same.

While we have to wait and see how Otago’s policies function in practice, the official statement looks to ACT like a strong foundation for free expression on campus and open academic inquiry.

The statement includes: “The University affirms that it will not restrict debate or deliberation simply because the ideas put forth are thought by some to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the members of the University community – its students and staff – to make those judgments for themselves. The University is not a place for safety from ideas – it is a place to engage in critical thought and debate in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Our students will not be prepared for a complex and challenging world unless they have experience negotiating conflict and disagreement.”

Other universities should take notice. This is a powerful and clear position. It contrasts starkly with the weak academic freedom policy of Massey University, which cites ‘mental harm’ as legitimate grounds for limiting speech.

Taxpayers don’t fund universities to protect students from difficult ideas. To the contrary, university is a place for difficult discussion, for testing popular assumptions, and for building resilient young adults.

A common function of universities is to discuss ideas or host speakers that may be controversial. Without robust free speech policies, there is precedent for groups of offended students threatening disruption or claiming to feel unsafe pressuring administrators to cancel valuable discussions.

Right now, there are essentially no consequences if a University actively inhibits freedom of expression without legitimate cause. With ACT in Government, that is set to change. Ahead of legislation being introduced to Parliament, universities seeking insight into ACT’s approach may look to the member’s bill we have previously proposed.