Safe Schools overhaul urged after Roz Ward suspension
THE AUSTRALIAN, JUNE 3, 2016
The Victorian government is under mounting pressure to make sweeping changes to the Safe Schools program, despite the suspension of co-founder Roz Ward, amid the promotion of teaching resources based on radical and contested queer theory.
Critics have warned that sidelining Ms Ward from the program failed to address their broader concerns, given its main resource continued to teach students that gender, sex and sexuality exist on a spectrum, rather than being “absolute binaries”.
Growing calls for an overhaul of what started out as an anti-bullying program have come as Ms Ward, backed by the National Tertiary Education Union, prepares to head to court to challenge her suspension from La Trobe University.
Her suspension, announced on Wednesday, followed a revelation in The Australianlast week of a Facebook post by Ms Ward in which she criticised the Australian flag as racist.
The outspoken Marxist, who co-founded and managed Safe Schools in Victoria, called for the flag sitting atop parliament to be replaced by “a red one” — referring to the preferred socialist ensign — adding, “then my work here is done”.
A letter from the university to Ms Ward, which has been leaked to the media, accused her of breaching her employment conditions by undermining public confidence in the Safe Schools program and damaging the reputation of the program by aligning it with views that have nothing to do with its message and content.
Her name was deleted yesterday from the website listing Safe Schools facilitators.
While Ms Ward has courted controversy for some time, her plight attracted substantial support yesterday. The NTEU condemned La Trobe’s decision, claiming Ms Ward had been the target of a “media attack”. The union’s secretary Colin Long was meeting with lawyers last night.
“We are very concerned that La Trobe University management seem to think that political views should be a criterion for employment, as was the case in the Soviet Union,” Mr Long said.
The National Alliance for Public Universities echoed the union’s sentiments, calling on La Trobe vice-chancellor John Dewar to reinstate and apologise Ms Ward immediately.
Mr Dewar yesterday defended taking action against Ms Ward, saying while the university valued “independent thought and academic freedom”, staff must also adhere to a code of conduct.