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University of Queensland student facing expulsion for activism

Drew Pavlou's criticism of the Chinese government has landed him in hot water with the University.

The University of Queensland (UQ) will be deciding whether they will expel fourth year student Drew Pavlou, an elected representative on the University’s Senate, in a disciplinary hearing next week. 

Pavlou’s public activism against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – especially on campus – was the main focus of a number of the allegations outlined in a 186-page document sent to him by the University last month. 

Among the allegations was a claim that Pavlou had “prejudiced the reputation of the University” through posts he had made on Facebook regarding the humanitarian situation in Hong Kong which were positioned as statements on behalf of the university. 

These posts resulted in “at least one (1) student withdrawing from their non-award program of study at the University”, hence the alleged damage to UQ’s reputation. 

Pavlou’s potential expulsion was also in part due to his vocal criticism of the University’s several connections to the Chinese state, which include the CCP’s co-funding of at least four of UQ’s courses and the naming of Xu Jie, the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, as a faculty member. 

Last July Pavlou was assaulted at a rally he led on the UQ campus, which called for the University to sever ties with the Chinese government. He later asserted that his attackers were set upon him by Xu, whom he took to court for making him susceptible to threats and attacks by accusing him of anti-Chinese separatism.  

The National Union of Students have condemned UQ in a statement released yesterday that deems the university’s actions an “attack on free speech.”

“Student representatives should not be punished for speaking out against the inaction of university administrations, to do so undermines the role student representation and student unionism on campuses [play] to its core.”

The University’s handling of the process leading up to Pavlou’s disciplinary hearing has also been questionable, threatening to deny him legal representation during the hearing and denouncing “attempts to exert external influence on our processes” following the public support shown to Pavlou by various Australian MPs. 

UQ’s treatment of Pavlou is indicative of a broader trend within Australian universities of stifling free speech on campus via university misconduct systems. 

Last year, Honi reported on how this manifests at the University of Sydney. Indeed the University’s own Student Discipline Rule (SDR) also refers to prejudicing the good name of the University, as with Drew’s case.

The disciplinary hearing which will decide Pavlou’s fate will take place on Wednesday 20 May.