Editorial: Peter Høj brings shame on the University of Adelaide

Words by On Dit Editors

Credit: Semper Floreat

The newly appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, Peter Høj, in a rare show of near unanimous consensus, is being opposed by nearly all student representatives and seemingly the vast majority of the student body.

After all the scandal and disappointment brought on by the previous Vice-Chancellor, it’s hard to imagine what the University Council were thinking when they chose an embattled, disgraced Vice-Chancellor named Peter to replace an embattled, disgraced Vice-Chancellor also named Peter.

On Dit condemns the decision to install Mr Høj as Vice-Chancellor. His failure as University of Queensland VC to stand up for student activist, Drew Pavlou, when he was assaulted at a Hong Kong-independence rally, should have been enough to remove him from consideration. Death threats domestically and abroad followed for Pavlou. Instead of receiving the university’s support, he was suspended for two years only weeks after the incident.

We’re not saying the timing is suss, but — okay, that’s exactly what we’re saying.

Sadly enough, the problems don’t stop there when it comes to Mr Høj: his partnership-building with some of the worst arms manufacturers; support for the Western chauvinist Ramsay Centre; allowing the Chinese Government’s soft power-arm, the Confucius Institute, to co-fund four courses during his tenure at University of Queensland and potentially influence the design of many more.

Keep in mind the last one happened while he was on the Institute’s governing council, the Hanban. All this while the Chinese government was alleged to be placing approximately 1 million Uyghurs in “re-education camps”, where they have been subjected to torture and many other human rights abuses. By the time Drew Pavlou became a household name, the extent of this persecution was well-documented.

But where was Høj to support him? Why did he not publicly condemn UQ Professor, Xu Jie, when he characterized the threats on Pavlou’s life as “patriotic behaviour”? Why did he refuse to sign up the university’s Confucius Institute to the government’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme? Could it have something to do with the $200 000 bonus he received partially for boosting Chinese enrolments?

These are questions with no answers — yet. What we know for certain is that as VC, Høj could have used his influence and power to defend Pavlou, and to defend the university’s place as a haven of free speech and values of social justice. Which he didn’t.

According to a credible source, there were four shortlisted candidates for the role of Vice-Chancellor. They received tours around university grounds as recently as one week before Høj was announced, suggesting this was not a one-horse race.

On Dit has filed a Freedom of Information request to see the documents that will disclose the University Council’s reasoning for this appointment. We will make the findings publicly available as soon as we receive them.

Specifically for our University, with the ex-VC’s disgusting history of sexual assault and complicity among those still near the top, one would think the University Council would put a strong record against sexual assault as a top priority. Instead we got someone whose tenure at the University of Queensland has been described by the founder and director of End Rape on Campus, Sharna Bremner, as “the worst university in Australia for responding to sexual assault and harassment”.

One of the harshest allegations from Bremner is that he hired a repeat offender instead of disciplining them, who went on to assault at least one other student afterwards.

Pictured below are numerous emails from Bremner to UoA Chancellor, Catherine Branson, expressing her concerns about Høj’s bungling of complaints. Though the emails were all seen, Bremner received no response from the Chancellor.

They say never to let a good crisis go to waste, and students are expected to forgive Høj because he plans to bring UoA out of it’s COVID slump. Speaking to InDaily, he has flagged his intent to “explore the pros and cons of a merger” between UoA and UniSA if international student enrolment rates don’t return to pre-COVID levels.

With everyone from Socialist Alternative to the Adelaide University Liberal Club opposed to this move and his appointment, it seems that the only thing the University Council cares for is a crony capitalist profit motive. Values like country, culture, safety and freedom can step aside, as long as we rake in some dollar.

We acknowledge Høj’s talent as a scientist and researcher. But he has failed the the most important test of a public servant by prioritizing his career over his duty to protect human rights and freedom of speech — values which were stepped on and sullied while he led the University of Queensland.

The best Peter Høj can now hope for is a Withdraw No Fail.

Let’s finally demand a Vice-Chancellor that this university deserves. Alternatively, it is probably also a time to discuss whether we even need one at all.

Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Ivan Jankovic, Stasi Kapetanos, Isobel Moore, and Michelle Roylance. Get in touch: onditmag@gmail.com