Last August, La Trobe University was engulfed in protests from students demanding a reversal of cuts to the humanities and social sciences faculty.
More than 600 subjects and 41 full-time positions were permanently wiped out by the corporate-minded vice-chancellor, John Dewar.
The campaign of peaceful protest and civil disobedience has been faced with severe repression and violence from the university security. One piece of video footage clearly showed a member of the security team physically assaulting and injuring one of the protest organisers.
The most vicious outcome was the decision of the vice-chancellor to charge three students involved in organising the campaign with “general misconduct” and “organising and inciting protest”. All three face termination of their courses and expulsion from the university.
One of the accused, Danica Cheesley, said: “These accusations are pure inventions of the university designed to silence dissent. Students have every right to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against outrageous attacks on our education. As far as I can see, I have been charged with organising and encouraging students to protest in support of their education."
The hearings are more akin to a kangaroo court than a proper legal process. A panel of university administrators will decide the fate of the accused, and no form of legal protection or advice can be provided to the students for the duration of this process. The hearings were heard on February 7 and 8.
The three students were awaiting the outcome of the hearing.
Accused student and Socialist Alternative member Llanon Davis read out a statement at the hearing, saying he “could not participate in the hearing as the university had failed to provide ... all the evidence to respond to the allegations.”
He refused to answer any questions presented by the panel, which he said were unfair due to the lack of legal representation on his part.
La Trobe students have formed the La Trobe Free Speech Defence Campaign, which has been gaining attention among new students, as well as academics throughout Australia.
The campaign is planning to build awareness of the campaign on La Trobe campus to draw the attention of media and the public. This issue has the potential to affect many tertiary students and staff this year. More staff and faculty cuts are likely.
[Statements of support for the campaign can be sent to and viewed at the campaign page.]