On June 29, the Parramatta Sun, a newspaper in a suburb of Sidney, Australia, ran a typical refugee story. On the cover was a picture of a young Sudanese happily announcing that her parents had just become Australian citizens: “Now mum and dad are Aussies just like me.”
This was too much for Andrew Fraser, a tenured associate professor in the Department of Public Law at Macquarie University in Sydney. The 29-year teaching veteran wrote a letter to the editor, in which he explained that “an expanding black population is a sure-fire recipe for increases in crime, violence and a wide range of other social problems.” He rejected the view that “black Africans and Muslim Afghanis are Aussies just like the descendants of the Anglo-Celtic pioneers who settled and built this country,” and argued that the arrival of Somalis means “Anglo-Australians are once again expected to acquiesce in the steady erosion of their distinctive national identity.” He asked why Australia “can no longer remain the homeland of a particular people,” but must instead “become a colony of the Third World.” “The fact is,” he added, “that ordinary Australians are being pushed down the path to national suicide by their own political, religious and economic elites.”
The Parramatta Sun decided to give the letter the full treatment, and plastered the headline “Keep Them Out” on the front page of its July 6 issue. A Sun journalist, Charles Boag, wrote a prissy accompanying article in which he asked, among other things, “Was the violence of America’s deep south caused by black people? I always thought it was caused by whites.”
The usual people made the usual noises, and the pressure was on. At first, Macquarie University stood by Prof. Fraser. Acting Vice Chancellor John Loxton (the real Vice Chancellor was traveling overseas) issued a statement on July 15 distancing the university from “racism,” but noting (amazingly) that there are “bodies of research to support all sides of the argument.” Not everyone shared this detachment. Philosophy lecturer Alex Miller said Prof. Fraser’s comments were “ill-informed, offensive, and bigoted.” “I’m dismayed that a colleague of mine could have views worthy of Joseph Goebbels,” he added.
In response to media requests, Prof. Fraser elaborated on his views: “Look at the annual HSC results [High School Certificate scores, on which Asians get high marks]—the consequence of which is that Oz [Australia] is creating a new heavily Asian managerial-professional, ruling class that will feel no hesitation . . . in promoting the narrow interests of their co-ethnics at the expense of white Australians.” He added further that it was only the “educated middle class” who disagreed with him, adding, “I think most ordinary people would find what I’m saying more or less self-evident.”
By this point, Prof. Fraser was something of a celebrity, and on July 18 was invited on the national television program A Current Affair. On the air, Prof. Fraser said it was a mistake to abolish the “White Australia policy” that restricted immigration to whites. He explained that “Sub-Saharan Africans have an average IQ of 70 to 75,” and that underdevelopment in Africa suggests a “difference in cognitive ability of blacks and whites.” The interviewer’s response was unscientific: “That is Adolf Hitler stuff! It’s just rubbish.” Apparently many Australians do not think it is rubbish. In a telephone poll conducted by A Curent Affair after the broadcast, 85 percent of respondents said they would ban all non-white immigration.
Some time after this, the vice chancellor of Macquarie University got home from her trip, and immediately ditched the “bodies of research on both sides” position. On July 25 Di Yerbury explained:
“Yesterday on my return from overseas I and other colleagues met with a number of leading representatives of the Sudanese community and the African Community Council in Sydney. I assured them that I personally disagreed profoundly with the views Professor Fraser has been propounding, and that the University as a whole dissociates itself from those views.
“I apologized to them . . . They graciously accepted my apology.”
She also explained that Macquarie was “proudly multi-cultural,” with students from 90 different countries.
Prof. Yerbury “invited” Prof. Fraser to bring forward his retirement, scheduled for June 2006, and offered to buy out the last year of his contract. She denied this was, in any way, punishment for expressing views she called “repugnant.”
On July 29, Prof. Fraser issued a statement in which he declined Vice-Chancellor Yerbury’s offer, explaining that the single most important reason for doing so was her apology to African groups. His statement, which he wrote in the third person, is worth quoting at some length:
“It is not known what special knowledge Professor Yerbury herself possesses on issues relating to racial differences and immigration that would entitle her to condemn Professor Fraser’s public comments out of hand. What is clear, however, is that the Vice-Chancellor’s personal disapproval of Professor Fraser’s views explains the refusal of the University to offer him the same Honorary Associate status customarily extended to other retired academic staff still actively engaged in scholarship and research.
“In effect, Professor Fraser said, the University is offering him the academic equivalent of a dishonourable discharge. To accept its terms would amount to an admission that he had somehow brought the University into disrepute. . . In his public comments, Professor Fraser has merely stated the truth to the best of his professional knowledge.
“ . . . Professor Fraser believes that the Vice-Chancellor was wrong to make any apology on behalf of the University; in doing so she has sacrificed the time-honoured traditions of academic freedom to the illegitimate demands of ethnic pressure groups and political extremists determined to impose an ideological dictatorship upon Australian universities.
“Professor Fraser also rejects any suggestion he, too, should apologise for his recent public comments. His argument that the White Australia Policy was fundamentally sound and that it was a mistake to abandon it falls squarely within his area of expertise and is an academically defensible view shared by a great many other Australians.
“ . . . Professor Fraser regards the Vice-Chancellor’s apology as an appalling display of intellectual cowardice . . . Universities once prided themselves on their commitment to the search for truth; to suppress data well-known to psychologists, criminologists, historians and legal academics merely because the truth might cause ‘hurt and distress’ to certain protected minorities calls into question the whole point and purpose of the University.”
This was too much for the university, which promptly banned Prof. Fraser from teaching. As a personnel officer explained in an e-mail message to Prof. Fraser, “We have received both telephone and email messages, including threats, from people purporting to support you, which indicate that there are risks to the safety of those on campus who express a different view.” If administrators really thought Prof. Fraser’s supporters were plotting violence, they could not have picked a better provocation than to bar him from the classroom. Needless to say, there were no riots.
Prof. Fraser suspected there might be a different explanation. Twice, he explained, officials had told him his remarks threatened to keep away fee-paying foreign students—there are 8,500 on campus—who are a big source of revenue. This quite excited Vice-Chancellor Yerbury, who seemed to think the suggestion she was thinking about money was, if anything, worse than talking about African IQ—“particularly vile,” she called it. “Honestly, rather than this university be accused of racism, I’d rather lose some of the money,” she insisted. Prof. Fraser’s classes had to be cancelled, she said, “because everything is in uproar.”
“Uproar” or not, Prof. Fraser came to class on July 31 only to find that he and 20 students were barred from their usual lecture hall. “It was a completely unprecedented experience,” he said. “I have never, ever, heard of students and teachers being locked out of a classroom.” Braving the “uproar,” Prof. Fraser spoke to students in his office.
All Prof. Fraser wants is to be allowed to keep teaching, and that seems to be what his students want, too. He might even get his wish. On July 31 federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson said college professors should be able to express their views without worrying they will lose their jobs. “Those who so strongly argue for free speech and academic freedom and rigor . . . should strongly disagree with what he said, if that’s their view . . . it’s certainly mine. But [they should] nonetheless respect the fact that he, as an academic, has a right to express it.” His conclusion: “I think that they should allow his classes to continue.”
Clearly, this is a story that will continue as well.