Australian Catholic University has been accused of endorsing the views of a pro-life organisation, after two bulk emails were sent out to students yesterday advertising an upcoming Right To Life fundraiser. Students say the emails are inappropriate for a public university which proclaims to be open to students and staff of all beliefs.

More than 4400 students would have received the emails yesterday morning, which were addressed to the Melbourne St Patrick’s campus-wide email list. The emails, obtained by Crikey, advertise an upcoming Right To Life hike, which is aiming to raise at least $50,000 so the anti-abortion lobby group can expand the operations of its hotline.

One email sent to students comes with an attached copy of a brochure for a Right To Life hike while another, sent by Associate Vice-Chancellor Chris Sheargold, also advertises the upcoming fundraiser. Right to Life Australia advocates against abortion through the lobbying of government. The group also operates a hotline to help families experiencing a “crisis pregnancy”.

ACU midwifery student Jacinta Cross says she’s tried to ask the university why they appeared to be advertising such political content, but has so far received no response. She says at least 17 students are prepared to make an official complaint about the emails.

“It’s not hugely surprising that a Catholic organisation is anti reproductive choice,” she told Crikey. “The issue in my view is that this is a public tertiary institution with no entry requirements regarding the religious status of students or staff.”

A spokesperson for the ACU told Crikey the emails did not amount to an endorsement of the political views of Right To Life.

“As a Catholic university, ACU does from time to time circulate matters of Catholic interest to our staff and students, which they are free to read or disregard as they wish,” the spokseperson said. “We have confidence in our students’ ability to question and determine their view on these matters independently.”

But Cross says the emails should not have been sent to all students as they “clearly endorse” a particular view about reproductive choice.

“ACU is a public university that accepts students from all religious backgrounds,” she said. “The university also trains nurses and midwives such as myself who will potentially need to assist women to have terminations in the course of their work.”

Asked about the endorsement of the message by a senior staff member, a spokesperson said ACU was is “in no way” connected to Right to Life: “ACU is open to, and welcoming, of staff and students of all beliefs. As head of the campus, the Associate Vice-Chancellor reserves the right to circulate matters of interest to staff and students.”

There are also concerns — denied by the university — the emails contravene the university’s email code of conduct. According to ACU email policy, emails sent to campus or university-wide mailing lists must abide by certain guidelines.

Emails must be relevant to the university or campus as a whole, or at least provide information with a direct connection to the university, the code states, while advertising events or causes which have limited relevance should be sent to subscription-only email addresses.

The latest mass email comes after staff and students expressed concern over an email sent last month which appeared to advise them not to vote for the Greens.

Peter Fray

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