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  • Peter Francis Fenwick

The Idea of a University

An open letter to

Dr Michael Spence, Vice Chancellor,

Sydney University.

Yesterday’s report that students at your University have been denied access to facilities to show and discuss the Cassie Jay documentary, The Red Pill, is of great concern.

When John Henry Newman wrote The Idea of a University in 1852, he envisaged a community in which students were taught "to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse". He was of the view that universities should be free of religious and ideological interference. How things have changed.

In their essay, The Coddling of the American Mind, (published in The Atlantic, September 2015 issue), Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, discussed how, in the name of emotional well-being, college students are being protected from words and ideas they don’t like, and why that is disastrous for their education and their mental health.

These are serious concerns.

Now is the time for you to show leadership and to ensure that the students at your University are exposed to alternative opinions even if these challenge their world view.

Otherwise, what is a University for?


On 20th April, I received the following response. Apparently, these matters are not the province of Dr Spence. There is no blood on his hands.

Dear Mr Fenwick,

Thank you for your email to the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence.

The decision not to show the documentary to which you refer was made by the University of Sydney Union, and not the University. The USU is a separate body to the University with its own constitution and its own board of management. As such, any criticism of that decision should be directed to the USU’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Andrew Woodward, who can be contacted at

Yours sincerely,

Justine Bashford

JUSTINE BASHFORD | Executive Officer, Written Communications Office of the Vice-Chancellor & Principal THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY L2.09, Main Quadrangle A14 | The University of Sydney | NSW | 2006 T +61 2 9351 7889

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