Dr Michael Spence comments on investigation into potential breaches of codes of conduct

15 April 2015

The University of Sydney today sent letters to thirteen people as a result of an investigation of various incidents which occurred during a public lecture by Dr Richard Kemp at the University on March 11, 2015. Read a statement about the investigation.

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, made the following comments about the incident and investigation to date:

It is inappropriate for me to make any comment which might prejudice the final outcome of the processes surrounding this incident, but I do wish to place on the record my views on some key questions raised by this incident.

This incident and the public debate which has surrounded it, represent the difficulty, but also the importance, of our commitment to academic freedom, the freedom of speech, and the right to protest. We must be a place in which debate on key issues of public significance can take place, and in which strongly held views can be freely expressed on all sides.

Some have suggested that I should condemn the views of participants in this debate with a mind to our reputation. However, the reputation of the University that I am most keen to preserve is that of a forum for the free debate of difficult and often confronting ideas. Universities as places of such debate have been powerful engines of social and economic development and custodians of our traditions of liberty. This vision of the function of a university is one often as unpopular with those of the political left as those of the political right. But it is a vision that for many years has been extremely fruitful and is arguably more vital now than ever before.

In order to play this role, universities must also remain places where disagreements are courteous and respectful, and those who protest must respect the academic freedom of others to their point of view. We must remain an institution where discourse is civil, even if opinions are strongly held and strongly expressed.

Journalists may be interested in a speech on academic freedom given by Dr Spence last year at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. A copy of the speech is available on the University's website.

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