Academic protestors criticised at professor’s farewell

July 31, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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The provost of the University of Sydney has told a farewell event for retiring Professor Suzanne Rutland at the University of Sydney that there were within the campus those “who confuse academic freedom with the right to disrupt”.

Emeritus Professor Suzanne Rutland and John Garten

Emeritus Professor Suzanne Rutland and Stephen Garton   Photo: Henry Benjamin

At a function marking the retirement of Professor Suzanne Rutland, Provost Stephen Garton thanked the Jewish community for its support of the university “constantly seeking to demonstrate that what we are doing here is worth supporting”  He echoed others in saying that Suzanne Rutland’s work at theDepartment of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies was invaluable and that “we owe her a debt of gratitude”.

He said: “One thing we would acknowledge about Suzanne is her moral courage. She has been resolute and courageous in reaching out to others in an effort to bridge the cultural and political divide to promote tolerance and understanding. She has reached out to colleagues in Arabic studies to cultivate a deeper value of understanding across these cultures and has worked with them to create teaching and the search of opportunities with students in the field of Arab-Israeli relations.

Even more noteworthy her effort to engage the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies the heartland of the BDS movement on this campus. In a sometimes hostile environment Suzanne certainly at some cost to herself has braved the environment to seek tolerance and respect at the Centre.

Universities occupy a very difficult terrain in such contexts. On the one hand we must get a full run of promoting cultural understanding tolerance and respect. On the other we must provide the environment for the flowering of many different ideas provided they are lawful . We can only fulfil our historic commission if we can encourage new ways of thinking while also subjecting them to rigorous critique and testing.

Many ideas will be abandoned under critical scrutiny. We can’t predict in advance what might be productive and illuminating. Universities have to be open to a multiplicity of ideas.  We have to trust our scholars – some ideas are facile even false .

Regrettably there are some university communities, a small group, who confuse academic freedom with the right to disrupt.  I find that wrong. We must of course see the students have the right to protest the decisions of government and protest the decisions of university administrators    More importantly academic freedom imposes obligations not just rights on all of us who happen to be privileged members of the academic community to respect the right of others to explore ideas.

Academic freedom requires respect even when we passionately disagree. Disrupting the free exchange of ideas is not academic freedom…it is hypocrisy.

John Garten

Stephen Garton

That is why we need scholars like Suzanne who possess the moral and courage even to speak out  in hostile circumstances. That really is the mark of the intellectual who deserves our highest respect.”

He announced that the University of Sydney had conferred on Suzanne Rutland the title of  Professor Emerita “in recognition of her wonderful contribution to the university.”

Garton’s remarks follow a highly publicised incident at the University when a talk being given by Britain’s Colonel Richard Kemp, a supporter of Israel, was disrupted by a group of protestors. Photographed before the lecture with the protestors was Associate Professor Jake Lynch from the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies. The incident during which security had to forcibly remove protestors, resulted in a full investigation commissioned by the university.

In her address, Professor Emeritus Suzanne Rutland said that she had wanted to become a high school teacher adding “However I knew that the Holocaust had not only resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews but in the destruction of the great places of Jewish learning particularly in Poland, the country of my parents’ birth. Hence I felt it was beholden to me to rebuild Jewish scholarship here…at the edge of the Diaspora. And to replace is some small way what we had lost.”

Among those addressing the farewell at the university were Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence and Professor Konrad Kwiet an authority on the Holocaust who had had a close working relationship with Suzanne Rutland Chair of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies Associate Professor Ian Young and Professor Daniel Blatman a visiting academic from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Dr Spence said that he had always been impressed with “the clarity of her mind” referring to their joint attempts to instil a feeling of community within the university when there were many “dissenting voices”.

Rutland was highly praised for her tireless work in the area of educating educators. A film was shown featuring  a myriad of people involved in Jewish education whose  careers had been inspired through the tutelage of Suzanne Rutland.

Peter Wertheim, President of the Fund for Jewish Higher Education, announced the establishment of the Suzanne Rutland Fund to raise funds to ensure the continuity of the department in which she had spent most of her professional life carrying out her invaluable work.

The Provost of a university is the second-highest working member of university staff. Only the Vice-Chancellor holds a higher office. The Chancellor is generally a figurehead who is not full-time employed at the tertiary establishment.

Dr Avril Alba will assume Suzanne Rutland’s position as a lecturer in the Holocaust and Jewish History at the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies.

Comments

4 Responses to “Academic protestors criticised at professor’s farewell”
  1. Philip Mendes says:

    Congrats Suzanne

  2. Hilary Rubinstein says:

    Bravo, Suzanne! All the very best for the future.

  3. Serge Liberman says:

    It is decidedly uplifting to read Provost John Garton’s remarks upon Suzanne Rutland’s retirement from Sydney University and learn of both the Emeritus status accorded to her and the establishment of a fund in her name aimed at ensuring the continuity of her department, which, before her, was headed by another much-esteemed scholar, the late Professor Alan Crown, in close association with Sr Marianne Dacy, a scholar in her own right and long-time stalwart archivist of the Archive of Australian Judaica.

  4. anne sarzin says:

    Well deserved accolades.

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