University of Sydney forum defends the right to protest

Fahad Ali, right, with members of Students For Justice In Palestine.

Activists, students and academic staff met at the University of Sydney on April 29 to discuss the university’s recent attacks on those involved in a protest against a lecture given by an Israeli colonel on March 11.

The meeting was addressed by a wide array of supporters of civil liberties and the right to express dissent, including Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks, founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation Professor Stuart Rees, president of the National Tertiary Education Union (University of Sydney branch) Michael Thomson, president of Students for Justice in Palestine Fahad Ali, Professor of English and Linguistics Nick Reimer and Sydney Peace Prize winner Julian Burnside.

All of the speakers expressed their support for Professor Jake Lynch who has been threatened with losing his position at the university because of his involvement in the protest, despite recently being cleared of anti-semitism charges. He was unable to speak at the meeting due to a gag order placed upon him by the university administration.

Rhiannon said: "There is no place for McCarthy-like witch hunts at this or at any university. [University of Sydney vice chancellor Michael] Spence uses progressive language but leads a strong neoliberal agenda. He presents as a proponent of free speech but is no such leader.”

There is an ongoing investigation into the protests. Spence said in an open email that it would be an “independent” investigation, despite the fact that the body carrying out the investigation is employed by the university.

Thomson condemned the investigation saying that it is “without substance.”

“This NTEU member [Lynch] is now facing disciplinary action regarding his actions at the Kemp lecture. The VC had no problems lining up meetings with people at the protest, but refused to meet with Jake Lynch's union - us. We call on the vice chancellor to follow through on the right to protest,” he said.

The speakers also defended the students involved in the protest, most of whom, including some of the audience members at the lecture, have received letters from the University of Sydney banning them from the university’s campus.

Reimer, who is also facing potential disciplinary action from the university over his involvement in the protest, spoke in defence of the students and the right to protest on campus.

“Protest, interruption and dissent are what democracy looks like. That’s not an empty slogan: it’s the fact of the matter. We can’t allow academic decorum to paralyse us so rigidly that we’re prevented from turning our heads to face the lesson of history.

It’s the young activist with her megaphone, not the intellectual in a seminar room, who leads the struggle for a better world. Students routinely interrupt speakers on university campuses.

“In threatening them with disciplinary action, the leaders of this university obediently do their bit to legitimise and reinforce one of the most dangerous features of modern societies – the criminalisation of dissent,” he said.

The campaign to get Sydney University to stop disciplinary actions against students and not sack Jake Lynch continues.

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