Students rally to support suspended academics

Issue 

On June 13, 100 students and staff rallied in front of the administration building at Queensland University of Technology's Gardens Point campus to protest the suspension of two QUT academics, Dr Gary MacLennan and Dr John Hookham, on charges of misconduct.

The two academics were suspended by QUT for six months without pay after they wrote a newspaper article criticising a PhD film project entitled, "Laughing at the Disabled". They have also been banned from entering QUT and using its email and other facilities for that same period. As a result, MacLennan was forced to address the rally from the Botanical Gardens, which borders the campus.

"Hold the disabled deeply in your heart", he appealed to the protesters. "Do not let anyone make fun of the disabled."

QUT has threatened to escalate the dispute by laying a charges of "serious misconduct" against MacLennan, which carries the ultimate penalty of dismissal.

Journalism lecturer Phillip Castle stressed to the crowd the importance of freedom of speech on campus, and pointed to the "culture of fear" that is being generated against academic staff speaking out.

He denounced the severity of the penalties imposed on the two academics, which amounted to a financial loss of around $50,000 for each. This was "unheard of" for a charge of ordinary misconduct, said Castle.

Several representatives of disabled people addressed the protest, expressing support for the two suspended academics. They said that disabled people should have been on the ethics review panel for the project.

The rally also protested QUT's move to close its school of humanities and human services, based at QUT´s Carseldine campus. Indigenous leader and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Sam Watson said: "The closure of humanities means the closure of indigenous studies. We are affronted by the entire process." Watson said he had sent a letter to Vice-Chancellor Peter Coaldrake, but had received no reply as yet.

Lauren Mellor, representing the Social Justice Club on QUT, said: "This is what happens when market forces run universities. Dissenting voices are silenced."

The students then marched around the campus, chanting "Discipline Coaldrake, not Gary and John!", and vowed to continue building the campaign in coming weeks.