New UQ free speech controversy

THE University of Queensland's commitment to free speech is being questioned again after a student was lambasted for contravening its inclusive language policy by calling James Madison a "founding father" of the United States.

The history and philosophy student said he was told the term "founding father" suggests "patriarchal politics" - despite it being widely used to describe Madison and other key figures in America's fight for independence, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The student was bizarrely told to use the term "founding signer of the Declaration" instead, as "UQ policy is to use inclusive language".

It is not known whether the student lost marks for using the term, as a grade is awarded for the piece overall, but the student said that was beside the point.

"I thought it was ridiculous to call such a well known term an error and a betrayal of the history of political philosophy," he said.

But a UQ spokeswoman said last night the university did not have a policy of marking students down for using gendered language.

"Lecturers are available to discuss their feedback and comments if students have questions," she said.

Suspended UQ student activist Drew Pavlou. Picture: Liam Kidston
Suspended UQ student activist Drew Pavlou. Picture: Liam Kidston

It comes after student activist Drew Pavlou, 21, made headlines around the world when was suspended for a semester after allegations of serious misconduct were upheld by the university's Senate Disciplinary Appeals Committee.

The university disciplined Mr Pavlou for online misconduct and his behaviour during a protest stunt regarding China's treatment of Hong Kong.

Mr Pavlou is suing University of Queensland, its chancellor and vice-chancellor for $3.5 million.

The claims have been filed in the Supreme Court of Queensland for damages relating to a breach of contract and defamation.

UQ Union President Ethan Van Roo Douglas said the union was concerned about the impact of the policies on one of the most "important principles of our liberal democracy: academic freedom".

"That a student would be penalised - either directly or indirectly - for using language that is both factually and academically correct in an exam about political history is as absurd as it is unnerving," Mr Van Roo Douglas said.

"The study of politics will always be political, but that does not give universities a right to advance an ideological agenda in the marking of assessment, which should always be fair, transparent and without bias."

Member for Traeger Robbie Katter. Picture: Evan Morgan
Member for Traeger Robbie Katter. Picture: Evan Morgan

Katter's Australia Party state leader Robbie Katter, who has been fighting to bring in laws to protect gender-specific language, hit out at the policy.

"Why we put the legislation in parliament is we recognise a lot of people want the benefit if they choose to still use primary vernacular as this student did and thought he was protected by," he said.

"I think it is an incremental encroachment on our Australian values and many people seem okay with that, I'm not.

"I would like to know who gave the mandate to these universities to kerb the entire population's language, when were they handed that mandate?"

Originally published as New UQ free speech controversy