Aug 17, 2017

Rundle: deeply flawed sexual harassment report clashes with academic freedom

The findings of the AHRC sexual assault report do not mean we should have more policing (physical and virtual) on university campuses.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


By the end of last week, "Changing The Course", the Human Rights Commission's report into sexual assault and harassment on campuses, was teetering on the edge of failure, with multiple criticisms (including those of this writer) of its research methods, and of the lurid publicising of results that suggested that assault/harassment was less common in university settings than among the public at large.

Then in the Sunday Age, Julie Szego propelled the report all the way to the Unsatisfactory Progress Committee and out into the afternoon shift at Gloria Jean’s. Szego, longtime writer from an explicitly feminist angle -- with some sympathy towards wars against Muslim tyranny, and an obsession with Ayaan Hirsi Ali that the AHRC report might have sorted into stalking -- damned the report for blending vastly different categories and throwing in a "stare from a sweaty engineering student on the tram" with everything up to assault to yield big numbers. "What will we do with a report that says there’s less sexual harassment on campus than outside, and half of that’s on the bus?" one pro-vice-chancellor told me this week. "We’ll use out own figures and teach ‘respect’."

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6 thoughts on “Rundle: deeply flawed sexual harassment report clashes with academic freedom

  1. The Curmudgeon

    Rundle’s writing on this issue has been amongst his very best. When, some time last century, I went to university, the notion that there was some entitlement to protection from being offended would have been viewed not only as absurd, but a contradiction of the purpose of a university.

    1. Jack Robertson

      Yes, I agree, he is laser-guided and calmly resolute, in a scary but crucial area.

  2. Simon Eastman

    I am currently studying at RMIT after more than twenty years away from formal study.many things concern me here. There first is the creeping weight of bureaucracy appears to have multiplied over the years. Lecturers are overburdened with administrative tasks and quality of teaching is measure by tick box formula, classes are too big and any political discussions fraught. At the start of the year I began an engaging, funny and heated debate with a young Trump supporter anarchist leanings with a taste for alt-right websites and conspiracy theories – he was a smart kid and and I found his views both offensive and a little exhilerating (he admitted to trump being a clown – but kind of his clown) his distrust of political correctness was refreshing. In a class on diversity a discussion on Aboriginal culture began with the comment “I’ve never met and Aboriginal person – has anyone else and ended with a one page powerpoint on Aboriginal culture. I was too flabbergasted to open my mouth. A discussion on refugee rights began with the instruction raise your hands if your’e for or against refugees. I raised my hand for the for side but not without insisting ‘it’s a little more complex than that’. After a couple of comments along the lines of refugees get rights and support ‘ordonary Australians ‘ don’t get I spoke up rather heatedly in support of those reuses who have been interned or made homeless under our governments policies and and pointed out that Sidney Myer, Frank Lowy and many other successful Australians came here as refugees. I was later accused of bullying people for their opinions.
    Other have worried me the constant presence of security everywhere on campus. When the behaviour of one particular lecturer descended from disorganized and domineering to openly hostile, we were fortunate to find an ally in the department and a small group of students prepared to speak up. A week later Respect posters started appearing all over campus . The media reports from HREOC appeared the next day and left me feeling like Rundle baffled and a little confused, clearly the stats had been twiddled and the media was out looking for a story, but on campus life goes . We have new lecturers and we have begun having discussions again about politics, sex and religion, we know each other better now and the tone is less anxious. Perhaps somewhere people feel silenced or coerced by this campaign. We’ve realized that on the whole university is a pretty safe and friendly place to be. I just hope we can cary this forward into our workplaces and our lives.

  3. Bob the builder

    Although I strongly agree, it does disturb me that it’s mostly other men who commented approvingly on Rundle’s similar article last week. It’s very easy to dismiss “offensiveness” if you belong to the dominant group.
    Nevertheless, the constant attention to people’s weakest points, and how vulnerable they are to offence and trigger, can not be good for progressive movements that want change. The powerful will hand you only scraps, so real change needs people with backbone.
    More broadly though, I’ve wondered for decades why these elements of the left are basically trying to achieve social change through the enforcement of what used to be called politeness, generally a tactic used by reactionary forces to shut down debate and critique. Hollowing yourself out to a point where you basically try and enforce certain types of speech and behaviour, dependent totally on an elite legal caste to back you up, is a very dangerous long-term strategy and, as we are seeing the Right increasingly doing, one that will be co-opted with devastating effect by Conservatives.

    1. JQ

      Absolutely, BtheB. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
      Politeness or kindness is an excuse widely used by elements of the extreme left when they want to control what people say or think. Shutting down viewpoints is a dismissal of freedom of speech and the societal dialogue it allows. If political/social/etc. dialogue is silenced, I believe that will send extremists on both sides underground. When they emerge, it is not good. Witness the anger brewing in the United States (especially on campuses) and the violence that is beginning to manifest.
      We need to engage with each other in order to find a middle ground of viewpoints to move forward collectively.
      The university used to be where one went to be challenged by dangerous ideas, to learn how to argue, how to articulate oneself, to understand history. At least in the United States, and perhaps soon in Australia, university seems to increasingly foster ideologues unwilling to engage in discourse, succumb to demands for ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe-spaces,’ and propagate the pernicious notion that because you are part of a particular group your opinion is more or less worthy.
      Perhaps I’m crazy and what’s happening in the United States is irrelevant here, but it does make one pause.

  4. AR

    The sheer word count necessary for grundle to cover this topic is a good indication of why the men-without-navels types, those who turn up and stay, on & on & on, wring every ounce of life out of a principle until nothing is left but a shell.
    Which the apparatchiks, unfit for life in the real world, then wear to look like a caring, functional human being.
    As BtB pointed out, the days of “Don’t Obey, Question” are long gone.

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