Academic freedom and respect underpin university culture

9 August 2018
The University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor responds to criticism published in the Daily Telegraph, defending the reputations of academic staff and explaining that freedom of expression and respect are critical to the University's culture.

This week, the Daily Telegraph published a series of articles about the University of Sydney and our academic staff, claiming a "culture of cotton wool and political correctness."

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence noted that the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is ranked among the world’s best faculties of its type because of the expertise of its academic staff. He said the University remains committed to free speech and responding to the needs of our students, staff and community.

"The University of Sydney is a place where ideas can be freely discussed," said Dr Spence.

"Our highly trained academic staff play a critical role in teaching the skills needed to disagree well to the next generation. This skill is even more critical given the increasingly polarising position-taking that has come to characterize public debate.

"Rather than shutting down debate, we actively encourage our staff and students to engage with the most difficult cultural conversations.”

On the accusation of a "PC movement, where we have safe spaces, victimhood, and students … no longer able to have robust debate," as reported in the Daily Telegraph, the Vice-Chancellor said, "The University makes no apologies for supporting debate in the context of its values for an inclusive and diverse intellectual community."

The University introduced the Diversity Studies minor this year in response to the increasingly diverse nature of our contemporary cultures and to meet the governmental, non-governmental, community and corporate demand for graduates skilled in diversity issues.

Across all disciplines, some units of study include class participation as part of the assessment. We have a special consideration process and Disability Services team in place to support students, who might not be able to participate in class discussions because of a medical condition, to participate in other ways.

"Online communication skills do not replace oral communication skills; rather, they are complementary. In increasingly digital workplaces, our students will be adept at communicating in different mediums," said Dr Spence.