Last night, a gig going under the name of “Rock Against
Racism” was to be held at the student union’s SAMbar at
Macquarie University.

The event was all about raising money for an African community centre. It was also an effort by students to
create a public front of
solidarity for an open and tolerant society – most specifically to try
and counteract the damage done to Macquarie University’s reputation
by Andrew Fraser, the controversial professor who opposes non-white immigration and was banned from teaching at the Sydney university earlier this year.

But according to organisers, the
bar’s management cancelled the gig a week ago – apparently after receiving a threat
from a
right wing or neo-nazi group – citing a “duty of care” to their
patrons.

They could have beefed up security, says one of the organisers L’amahz
Bah, President of the African Communities Council, but instead they
cancelled the event without consultation – and without detailing the nature of the threat.

It was an “act of cowardice really,” says Joseph Pugliese, associate
professor of the Department of Critical and Cultural Studies. Students
and staff are “pretty disappointed” – staff had been very supportive of the event (the gig appeared in the university’s staff newsletter).

And Pugliese agrees with Bah that
the reasons for cancelling are “problematic,” given that a forum held two months ago
to debate Fraser’s convictions received similar neo-nazi threats, but
went ahead after security had been increased. So there’s a precedent for
overcoming these kinds of threats, he says.

However, that forum was run by academics, so the event was university-run as
opposed to student union-run, which might explain the different
approaches.

At the end of the day, student welfare was of paramount importance,
Pip Brook, marketing and communications
director of SAM, Macquarie’s student union, told Crikey. So why not
simply increase security rather than cancel the event? SAM was told of
the threats six days in advance and to organise security in this amount
of time, when it required the involvement of the local command, wasn’t
possible, says Brook.

We took the threats “seriously” and had to protect students, Brook told Crikey. That’s
SAM’s role, she says, noting that the student union does substantial
work to support students who wish to raise money for causes. Brook
refutes that organisers weren’t informed about the cancellation or told
of the nature of the threat, saying a full email was sent to the
organisers with these details.

It’s all very upsetting, says one student, “not just because it appears that the university (an institution
which should be a bastion of free speech) caved in so easily, but also
because of the lack of transparency in the decision process,” says one student.

From an outside point of view, he says, “the decision seems to be based on
concerns about insurance and liability. And it demonstrates the way in
which University culture has changed over the last twenty years.”

In the meantime, Bah and organisers are pressing on with plans for a larger concert which they’re hoping to
stage in the Sydney Opera House forecourt. Negotiations are under way with NSW Premier Iemma.

CRIKEY: Vice Chancellor Di Yerbury was in conference so was unavailable for
comment.