I have just returned from the protest outside the degree conferring ceremony for Lee Kuan Yew. About 150 protesters (mostly students) welcomed Lee’s arrival with chants of “Lee Kuan Yew – ANU is not for you”; “No doctorates for dictators”; and “Masters for Mugabe.” The occasional “shame, Chubb, shame” was also heard.
Protesters were kept well back from the entrance to the hall by a line of tape and a small contingent of police, security staff and some ANU suits. There seemed to be a strong media presence so this action should get some good coverage.
During the protest additional signatures were collected for a petition to be submitted to ANU Chancellor Allan Hawke. Based on the almost complete silence so far from the ANU leadership, I don’t expect that this will meet with much response.
At the protest there was further informal talk of possible legal action against the decision to give Lee an honorary degree. Apparently there was some discussion of an injunction yesterday, but sufficient evidence could not be put together in time. Options are being considered for further action. Whether or not the ANU actually followed the required procedure for the granting of this degree may well be a key point in any further action. As I have indicated before I have a suspicion that the ANU Honorary Degrees Committee was bypassed in this process, contrary to the provisions of the Honorary Degrees Rules. I have sent a number of emails requesting clarification on this but still no response.
Last night the ANU did emerge from its bunker, briefly, on this issue. Vice Chancellor Ian Chubb stated on ABC television news that the degree reflected the strong relationship between ANU and the National University of Singapore (this is my recollection, I have not been able to find a transcript). No one at ANU would disagree with the importance of good relations with other universities, but is this really a basis for the award of an honorary degree? Incredibly Chubb indicated that he was not completely aware of Lee Kuan Yew’s background when the decision was made. Unbelievable from the head of one of the world’s leading Asian studies universities but all the more reason why due process should be observed and appropriately informed people consulted.[UPDATE: for other coverage of the protest and recent developments see: Canberra Times; Radio Australia; The Australian; and the Sydney Morning Herald.]