Notre Dame blocks free speech

Members of Socialist Alliance campaigning at Notre Dame university.

Socialist Alliance members hit the front page of the Fremantle Herald as part of the campaign for free speech at Notre Dame University in Fremantle.

The university — a private institution — maintains strict control over many aspects of student life, including the student association. The only way student clubs can get any recognition is by affiliating to the university. But the university won't allow clubs who violate "Catholic social teachings" to affiliate.

That means that groups like Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative and the Greens — who campaign for equal marriage rights and the right to choose abortion — have been denied the right to affiliate, which restricts their ability organise and campaign openly on campus.

It is not just left-wing groups who have been affected. The Medical Students’ Association has been deregistered as a club because its constitution included support for abortion on medical grounds. Other non-political clubs have also been affected.

By contrast, the Labor and Liberal parties are allowed to be affiliated and operate openly. University support for these clubs goes so far as provision of an office by the administration to organise their club activities. However, even the Labor club had their student newsletter censored by the university when they wrote a simple report about Labor's change in policy on equal marriage in 2011.

The university responded to the Fremantle Herald story by sending an email full of weasel words to students.

It said: "The University wishes to reiterate that it respects and values the individual freedom of all students to be associated with any causes, organi[s]ations, clubs or activities which they have chosen using their own discernment and judgment," the email said. And further, that "university staff and students work tirelessly to ensure that there are opportunities for these debates and discussions to occur".

These sentiments are contradicted by the actions of the university administration in refusing affiliation of student clubs and actively harrassing student activity, even when that activity has been formally off campus.

Students are not seeking to represent the university, but simply to exercise their own right to organise and express their views.

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