Australian universities are in quite the pickle. Not only are they watching as potentially $12bn in revenue from foreign student fees slips away, but they are also being accused of racism by the country they rely on for so much of their funding. Last week, Beijing issued a statement in which it warned Chinese students to give Australian universities a wide berth because of both COVID-19 and endemic racism.
In response to Scott Morrison’s suggestions that this amounts to “coercion”, Beijing has retaliated with the suggestion that Australia needs to do some “soul searching” and that the “racist incidents” were “based on a host of facts”.
This is a delicious irony. For years so many Australian universities have been making money out of the racism industry. Now they are on the back foot, having to defend themselves against an accusation that is demonstrably false.
For decades academics employed in our institutions of higher education, especially those in the humanities, have been using taxpayers’ money to paint a picture of Australia as a country of racists. They have been using their positions in various faculties to propagate the myth that we are a xenophobic nation.
They have taken every opportunity to berate mainstream Australians about how they should be both ashamed of their history and ashamed of themselves. They have been telling Australians that it is somehow immoral to celebrate Australia Day, that Captain James Cook was an invader, and that the whole existence of the modern state of Australia is a terrible mistake, a crime to be endlessly deplored and for which we must constantly apologise. They have insisted that the values and institutions of Western civilisation are racist, imperialist and outdated, and must be expunged from our society.
The University of Sydney leads the way in the business of race. A couple of years ago, its academics infamously rejected the Ramsay Centre’s bachelor of arts in Western civilisation as “white supremacy writ large”. The faculty of arts and social science boasts a taxpayer-funded “Resurgent Racism” project, which has concluded that unless something is done by the faculty, Australian society will face a dystopian future of white supremacy. Last year, the university hosted a self-styled “anti-racism educator” from the US to lecture everyone on campus about how racist they all were.
The staff in the history faculty seem to spend significant waking hours thinking, writing and talking about race and racism, all at the expense of the taxpayer. Since 2002, the faculty has received almost $9m from the Australian Research Council to fund 18 historical studies research projects that focus on racism in one form or another.
Nine months ago, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, Michael Spence, appeared to comment that anyone who dared question the existence of Chinese influence on his campus was basically a racist. “We have to be careful that the whole debate doesn’t have overtones of the White Australia policy,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. In this way, he ensured next year’s income — or so he thought at the time. No one predicted that COVID-19 would wipe out, almost overnight, $884m in international student fees for the University of Sydney, a generous portion of which would come from Chinese students.
Spence is the highest-paid vice-chancellor in Australia, earning $1.5m a year. As yet, he has not taken a pay cut like many of his colleagues.
This episode has revealed another crack in the crumbling facade of the Australian university, which is one of the crucial institutions of Western civilisation yet which fails the Australian public, having lost sight of its purpose. Our universities are facing a systematic crisis and have been exposed as incompetently run businesses more interested in foreign dollars, social justice, diversity and identity politics than they are the pursuit of truth, freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry. They are floundering in the midst of a free speech crisis, with a questionable commitment to academia and a terrible track record in dealing with academics and students who hold a contrary view to the established groupthink. Last year’s Independent Review of Freedom of Speech in Higher Education Providers (the French review) found that many of the higher education rules and policies in universities used broad language “capable of impinging on freedom of expression”.
Not only have we seen the censure and unlawful sacking of Professor Peter Ridd by James Cook University, but to add insult to injury, JCU’s court case is being funded by taxpayers, having already cost $630,000 in legal fees. Meanwhile, the University of Queensland employed one of Australia’s top legal firms to pursue philosophy undergraduate Drew Pavlou regarding his robust criticism of the university’s connections with China as well as that country’s history of human rights abuses.
Our universities have long ceased being institutions interested in the rigorous exercise of freedom or the scientific method and today better resemble elaborate public relations outfits.