Statement on freedom of speech

Dear colleagues

Many of you will have followed coverage in recent days about UNSW’s commitment to freedom of speech.

UNSW has an unequivocal commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom.

Our policy is clear – freedom of expression at UNSW is no different to freedom of speech across Australia. The only constraint that we place on freedom of speech is the law. We will not restrict the right of staff, students or others to express their views however challenging or controversial, as long as they remain within the legal constraints of Australia. Our University is rightly a place where many different views and opinions are expressed and vigorously debated. We expect those engaged in these debates to treat others with respect and we will not limit freedom of expression within the law simply because some find it offensive or challenging.

We have a strong track record in protecting freedom of expression but we do make mistakes. On Friday an article was published on our website and it was then promoted in a tweet from our corporate social media channel. This tweet was removed after protests were received. The tweet should not have been removed. I apologise for this mistake and reaffirm unequivocally our previous commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom. There is no excuse for our failure in this instance but an explanation is warranted. In order to protect our role as a place where all views can be expressed, UNSW as an institution does not take a position on political issues. On this occasion the tweet was removed as it appeared to represent a UNSW view, rather than the view of an individual. UNSW will avoid this situation in the future by making it clear that such views are not those of the University – and as such will alter its social media accounts to state that the posting of material does not amount to endorsement.

This is an example of the challenges universities face in navigating issues of freedom of speech in a complex world. At UNSW we will continue to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, while holding firm to our policy and principles. Members of our community can be assured that their right to freedom of expression is no different at UNSW to anywhere else in Australia. Our University is and will remain a place where people energetically and passionately express their views, while respecting the right of others to challenge them and express opposing views.

I regret our failure on this occasion, while celebrating our long history as a beacon of free speech and reaffirming our UNSW freedom of speech policy. Best wishes Ian Professor Ian Jacobs President and Vice-Chancellor.