The ANU student newspaper has a response.
As many of you will be aware, the “Advice from Religion” infographic on the back page of Woroni, Edition 5 2013, caused a flurry of activity. However, what you might not know is that over the course of a week, the Woroni board was twice summoned to the Chancelry, individually threatened with disciplinary action along with the authors of the piece, and informed that Woroni’s funding allocation could be compromised.
Threatened with disciplinary action…for what? It would help if we knew more about the cartoon, but so far I don’t.
As editors of a student publication, we have grown accustomed to receiving heated feedback from students and staff. However, in this instance the extent of interference with Woroni by the Chancelry was unprecedented.
The day following publication, the entire Woroni board was asked to attend a meeting with members of the ANU Chancelry, including Richard Baker, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience). The Chancelry wished to discuss the Woroni board’s response to a formal complaint submitted by the International Students Department.
In a later statement to Woroni, the Chancelry maintained that the article breached the “University rules” and the Australian Press Council Principles. Furthermore, the Chancelry commented that the “the University has a large international footprint and is mindful of maintaining its reputation of providing a welcoming environment for a diverse student and academic population.”
Meaning…what? That cartoons about Islam are especially insulting to foreign students? But if so, is that true? More so than cartoons about Catholicism for instance? And if it is true, is it really grounds for discipline and deletion? It sounds dubious.
The Chancelry’s position is that the piece posed a threat to the ANU’s reputation and security. “[I]n a world of social media, [there is] potential for material such as the article in question to gain attention and traction in the broader world and potentially harm the interests of the University and the university community.”
“This was most clearly demonstrated by the Jyllands- Posten cartoon controversy … and violent protests in Sydney on September 15 last year,” the Chancelry told Woroni.
In light of these concerns, the Chancelry asked for an apology and an official public retraction of the piece.
Ah. Now we know where we are. The mention of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons clarifies. We’re in the realm of violence and intimidation.
The J-P cartoons were not substantively insulting (except possibly to a long-dead “prophet”). The “controversy” about them was worked up by Islamist clerics. We’re in the realm of preventive caution in the face of violence. That’s a very bad reason to punish students who did nothing wrong.