The following open letter was sent to Dr Michael Spence, the vice-chancellor of Sydney university, by renowned journalist and film-maker John Pilger. The letter, one of many sent to Spence by activists and academics, is in response to a decision by the university to ban two left-wing activists from being on campus (see GLW#831).
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Dear Dr Spence,
I have a number of reasons to feel affection for Sydney University: my mother's distinction there, and the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize, which was presented to me at the University by a University Foundation.
I was surprised and frankly horrified to learn that the University of Sydney had placed bans on two peaceful, left-wing activists, Peter Boyle (for 12 months) and Paul Benedek ("indefinitely") from entering any premises or property of the University.
These are both well-known and respected activists for social justice who publish the excellent newspaper Green Left Weekly, a publication I respect and have long supported for its outspokenness against injustice and oppression.
These people were quietly helping students belonging to the Resistance Club, a socialist youth organisation, hold a political information and campaigning stall on the main campus on March 15. The Resistance Club had permission from the USU Clubs and Societies to operate with "the permissions of a registered club". The permissions include having non-students on campus to assist in holding stalls.
The bans were summarily carried out by security people in a manner I personally associate with universities in non-democracies. I hope you will agree the bans were a mistake: certainly an affront, not just to activists' rights but to the right of free speech and expression that any university worth the name should be protecting and promoting.
These rights are critical to encouraging healthy debate, exposing students to different perspectives and ideas and encouraging open minds — rights that the University of Sydney claims publicly as its core values.
With these values in mind, I ask you to facilitate the lifting of these bans.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Journalist, film-maker, author,
Frank H.T.Rhodes Visiting Professor, Cornell University
[Please join Pilger and others, and ask the vice-chancellor to revoke these bans in the interest of democracy and freedom of political expression. Call him on 02 9351 5051, fax 02 9351 4596, or email