Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Campaigning for Free Speech at Notre Dame

Socialist Alliance members hit the front page of the Fremantle Herald (and it seems their entire stable of local newspapers - including the Perth Voice) as part of the current campaign for free speech at Notre Dame Uni (Fremantle campus).

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

That means that groups like Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative who campaign for equal marriage rights and the right to choose abortion have been denied the right to affiliate (and hence operate and distribute material openly on campus, book rooms, etc). But it is not just the far left.

The Medical Students’ Association has been deregistered as a club by the university’s Student Life Office because its constitution included support for abortion on medical grounds. Other non-political clubs have also been affected, as have the Greens.

By contrast, 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.

"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 it 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.

Please sign the petition to help Notre Dame students win the basic right to organise at this publicly funded (but privately run) university.