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Don't expel activists! Defend free speech at La Trobe

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Student and education activist Ryan Higginson faces expulsion from La Trobe University. Ryan has been part of the protests against Education Minister Christopher Pyne's planned education cuts in the federal budget. The campaign has already had a success with the Senate blocking $435 million in university cuts. Pyne wants to stop this opposition. 

On August 29th Christopher Pyne published an article in the Murdoch press insisting that universities move to stifle dissent, and that university administrations should ignore considerations of “freedom of speech”.

In the days immediately after this was published Ryan received notice that he is required to attend a formal disciplinary hearing at the university. He is not able to have a lawyer present. The charge sheet was put together by law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler. This law firm in 2012 gave Tony Abbott free legal assistance in his case against John Setka, the Victorian Secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (http://m.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/abbott-discloses-legal-aid-20120516-1yray.html).

One education campaign Ryan has been involved in, is that to save the hundreds of jobs which are set to go from La Trobe University. This campaign has been very critical of the Vice-Chancellor, John Dewar. Both because Dewar is leading the cuts at La Trobe, and because he is working with Christopher Pyne to implement regressive changes to higher education nationally.

The complaint alleges that Ryan's activism for Palestinian human rights is a form of harassment. This is merely an excuse to attack free speech on campus and silence a progressive activist. 

The nature of the charges mean that expulsion is a real possibility. This is an extremely serious step. To expel a student for political activities is unprecedented in recent years. The last time students were expelled for political activity in Australia, they had been involved in the movement against the Vietnam War.

Universities should be places of debate and critical thinking. Students have a right to a political voice regardless of whether you agree with everything they say.

We call on the Vice-Chancellor to dismiss these charges.



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