Guest Author XYZ. Reflection on UTAS. Calls for University of Tasmania to act and kick sex offender from PhD studies

UTAS

Calls for University of Tasmania to act and kick sex offender from PhD studies

A  CONVICTED sex offender and former schoolteacher is central to a complaint made to the State Ombudsman against the University of Tasmania.

The university has now been asked to provide a “better explanation’’ to the Ombudsman as to why it did not terminate the offender’s PhD study following reports to police and the university last year about his conduct in the Unigym.

Tasmania Police said they spoke to the man after receiving two complaints about his behaviour in the gym at the Sandy Bay campus.

The 63-year-old was convicted and jailed last year for producing child exploitation material on Facebook while doing his taxpayer funded PhD.

He had also been jailed in 2011 for maintaining a sexual relationship with a person under the age of 17, being a student in his care at a school, and of possessing child exploitation material.

University deputy vice-chancellor Brigid Heywood acknowledged the university had received expressions of concerns last year about the man’s “presence at Unigym’’.

“Having been made aware of these concerns [he] gave up his membership to the facility and has also voluntarily agreed not to frequent social spaces on campus, such as cafes,’’ Professor Heywood said.

“These measures supplement a university request that he focuses his time on campus only in the facilities where his studies are based.’’

Prof Heywood defended the university’s decision not to terminate his PhD study.

“There is nothing in the university or government rules governing PhDs which precludes [him] from continuing his research,” she said.

“But we have taken appropriate steps and will continue efforts to balance interests across the campus community.’’

Documents obtained by the Mercury reveal an investigation officer from the Ombudsman’s Office issued the university with a please explain this month regarding the man’s “ongoing enrolment as a student”. The mother of the man’s school victim, who withdrew from her university studies because of the offender’s presence on campus, wrote to the university asking why he was not removed and lodged the complaint with the Ombudsman.

“[This is] despite the fact he has been charged and jailed for an offence during his PhD candidature at UTAS, and he has been reported to police for intimidating students,’’ the mother said.

The mother has written to Federal Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham, whose department re-sponded, saying the university had discretion in the matter.

“The University of Tasmania is not obliged to continue to provide a student with a scholarship simply because it is funded by the Government and the university has the authority to terminate a PhD student position,’’ the department noted.

Beyond Abuse spokesman Steve Fisher said the university should have terminated the man’s PhD enrolment.

I am absolutely honoured to share VWX s piece. The writing is just fantastic, brilliant and magnificent. It is one of the finest written “Survivor based” pieces I have ever seen.

The article below links to the Tasmanian Mercury Article on the University of Tasmania.

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VWX.

It is fascinating to me that all in a matter of weeks, a select few controversial events in the entertainment and arts industries, though offering no new insight into cultures and practices that long predate them, have been met with such an immediacy and scope of outrage. One of these is, of course, the much debated Hermann Nitsch exhibit planned for Dark Mofo.

https://darkmofo.net.au/program/hermann-nitsch-150action

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-19/controversy-over-hermann-nitsch-dark-mofo-bloody-art-show/8452202

 

Dark Mofo
Pronotional Image dark Mofo ( Courtesy ABC Online )

 

I am fascinated not so much by the controversies themselves as the very specific, public breed of outrage they have afforded because of the direct, unavoidable nature of the platforms on which they’ve been presented.

The type of outrage I’m referring to is not one born solely out of general, self-realised moral distress (though that may be a component), for it is the product of lifelong conditioning that encourages conformity to the mentality of a larger group. It is thus usually harboured without a second thought, especially given that it is a means by which to steer the blame of widely perceived failures away from oneself and one’s own shortcomings. Consider: the witch hunts driven by the false persecution of heresy in the early Middle Ages, or the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, which was permeated not so much by a strength of political strategy as a gross insistence of moral superiority.

The problem with outrage of this kind, aside from being at the mercy of the frequent and often flippant changes in popular opinion, is it hungrily feeds off and glorifies any and all supporting contributions. Among these are personal claims of oppression and being “triggered” at the hands of the less popular “other”. Such accounts are quick to be classified as evidence of the other’s evil, before their validity is verified. Unknowingly or otherwise, we praise the exaggerated and the false, thereby trivialising the cases that are in fact true and worthy of genuine outrage.

This muddying of the distinction between fact and fiction means that truths lose traction just as easily as lies if they are attached to a cause that is abandoned when public outrage changes course. Think of feminism; one of the most important and worthy causes, now so often misinterpreted because a few self-proclaimed representatives whose public indulgences of personal petty drama have reduced it to a tool of self-promotion, thus pulling focus away from and insulting the truly oppressed.

By disregarding veritable truth and thorough moral analysis, ultimately we create an environment of all or nothingness; pitch blackness against blinding whiteness; founded on false constructs of absolute right and absolute wrong, wherein any healthy questioning is considered the near equivalent to supporting the opposing side. In such a climate we fall into hypocrisy by denouncing the hatred and wrongdoings of the supposed oppressor via an equally unproductive extremism often described oxymoronically as the “good fight”. This too descends into a kind of hatred, the only difference being that it is awarded the seal of acceptability by the forces that dictate the fashionable cause. And so, instead of being viewed as a mutual necessity, success is rendered achievable only if the opposition loses. Very quickly, the goal of unity becomes impossible as the pursuit of progress assumes the form of a competition.

We fiercely reject the arguments of those that threaten our own, yet are so easily upset when they retaliate with equal force. These crippling dichotic cultures of hypercriticism and hypersensitivity do far worse than force a social stalemate: they erode the middle ground that yields the opportunities necessary to forge relationships and effective compromise. Worse still, each is amplified in its ability to stifle progression by a growing tendency to overvalue the average uninformed opinion, at the cost of the lessons offered by wisdom and expertise. The result is such a strength of emotionally-charged belief that we are right, that the reevaluation of how and why we arrived at it dissolves into pointlessness. Reason and objectivity are rapidly exhausted in the face of overbearing zealotry.

And just as we make little effort to truly understand our own beliefs, we make little effort to understand those of the people we disagree with. We surrender ourselves to the conviction that they are simply stupid and ignorant, only to have them accuse us of stupidity and ignorance in return. We descend into futile, senseless games of finger pointing and yelling, yet don’t understand why no one will listen.

The sudden uproar over the idea of a public slaughter of a bull is if nothing else a perfect symbol of our limited capacity to comprehend enduring social failures: “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”. In place of the proposed performance could be a live rape (which has been done before), a scene of domestic violence, a malnourished child of the third world drinking unsanitary water, or any horrific thing imaginable that will continue to happen every day after its time in the spotlight of outrage has expired.

But while outrage is warranted in these cases, it is a useless tool on its own. Because without patience and a willingness to listen and learn from one another, even when the outrage itself dies, the foundations of divisiveness remain, ready to assume the same ruthless modes of defense that have become second nature to us. Each time the gap between two opposing schools of thought grows wider, and the time it takes to assign unquestionable blame to the “other” gets shorter.

For these reasons, I have been wary of sharing articles and posts of this nature too frequently. In the grand scheme of things, I am aware that they are in danger of falling onto the growing heap of “cries for attention”, which become less and less valuable in accordance with the law of diminishing returns.

Certainly, I have shared details of my personal story before, and been humbled by the positivity of many responses. But personal reinforcement, though appreciated, is not what I seek. Isolated reassurance of the individual does not solve the larger issue. Perhaps it is better understood if I put it like this:

Because of the aforementioned problems inherent in classifying right and wrong as absolutes, making progress on social issues isn’t possible if we reduce them to simple matters of “good vs bad”. In doing so they become fixed in a cyclical discourse driven by those who can’t accept the complete innocence of the victim, and in turn those who will write off such people as unhelpful when in reality everyone should be included in the discussion. It’s not that we shouldn’t ask questions, it’s that the questions should be better. To cast immediate judgments is foolish, regardless of the truth of the circumstances. Indeed, the ignorance of rape culture, in particular, is such that it is, in fact, damaging to both sides of the dialogue that fuels it. For example: the persistent need to ask what a victim was wearing not only gives weight to the idea that rape is welcome upon invitation, but implies that all people are animals lacking in self-control who, if faced with the same temptation, would ALL have no choice but to give into a criminally wicked desire. The true evil is not in challenging the victim; it is in accepting the crime.

In my case, for instance, I understand logically it was not my behaviour that caused what happened, but it must be noted that like all “survivors” I am also aware of my role. This is not a cry for your reassurance of “it’s not your fault”; I totally understand that. It would be wrong of me though not to acknowledge that I did bad things too—granted these things are excusable in the context of the bigger picture—but they are still wrong. I have never asked to be absolved of the responsibility I willingly take for all of the lies and subterfuge I carried out throughout the duration of the abuse, which came at the expense of many guiltless people whose pain I cannot claim to know. My actions are ultimately indicative of the impact of a greater corruption.

It is exactly these ethical nuances that offer crucial insight into the depth of complexity of the crime, and the extent of its wrongness. What baffles me still, however, is the refusal to understand and accept this inevitable moral ambiguity, and worse, the use of it as justification for a thing that is unfit for justification in any given circumstance.

And for the record, I guarantee you, whatever you think you would do, whatever “best outcome” you could plan for, has little power beyond the safe confines of an idealistically imagined scenario. That is why I implore people to refrain from making assumptions and entertaining rumours and encourage instead listening to the accounts of those directly involved in a situation. Because they are not attempts to revel in victimhood, they are opportunities dispel confusion.

Worse than the thing itself, is the feeling that my intention of protecting others has been undermined by the negligence of an institution that is supposed to serve the most important value of life: education.

Not long before divulging the details of the abuse to authorities, I confronted the perpetrator in a fit of boiling anger that in reaching its peak had momentarily surpassed my fear and guilt. I heard myself yelling that I hated them, that I believed them to be a monster, and that if it weren’t for the fact they had children who I wished to spare of hurt, I would expose them.

But upon being met on this first and final stand by a chillingly comfortable remorselessness, I realised at once with shocking clarity that it was neither an evil I had caused nor could contain; one that would not end with me…….. ..That is perhaps the saddest, most revealing clue I can offer you.

I wonder if this article is enough to generate any interest. I wonder if this is close enough to home. I wonder if we all might be brought closer together in the pursuit of true justice. I am not asking for your brief outrage; I am asking for your willingness to continue to learn and make efforts to understand.

 

UTAS1

 

https://www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/university-of-tasmania-students-deserve-a-safe-campus?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1494824024

 

To: University of Tasmania (UTas)

University of Tasmania: Students deserve a safe campus!

Campaign created by
Heidi La Paglia

Respect your commitment to improve student safety, by immediately terminating Nicholaas Bester’s Phd scholarship, and banning him from attending any University of Tasmania campus.

Why is this important?

Despite signing onto the Universities’ Australia Respect Now always campaign only last year, and making a commitment to the ongoing Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) project aimed at stamping out sexual assault on campus, the University of Tasmania (UTas) is actively welcoming a convicted sex offender on campus.

Nicholaas Bester, who is currently a PhD student at the University of Tasmania (UTas) Sandy Bay campus, was convicted and jailed in 2011 for sexually abusing a 15-year-old student at St. Michaels Collegiate girls college, where he was head of science.

At the time of his parole, Bester was admitted to UTas as a student and received a PhD scholarship.

In 2015 Bester stated on social media his first crime was ‘awesome’ in a conversation so offensive it was reported to Tasmania Police and resulted in him being charged with producing child exploitation material. He served a prison sentence for this in 2016, during which time he remained a student at Utas.

Despite multiple complaints being made about Bester’s presence on campus, the University of Tasmania has put students at risk by:

– Accepting Bester as a resident in the John Fisher student accommodation complex, where he lived in close proximity to many students.

– Making no attempt to terminate Bester’s student status after he was reported to the police for predatory behaviour at the University gymnasium. At the time, an agreement was made with Bester that he would no longer attend the gym, but Utas continued to accommodate him on campus.

When questioned, the university deputy vice-chancellor for research, Bridgid Heywood said that “there is nothing in the universities’ rules which precludes Bester from continuing his research.”

However, this appears to ignore the university behaviour policy which states that all staff and students have a right to work and/or study in an environment that is free from inappropriate behaviour, including the sexually harassing and abusive behaviours which Bester has engaged in.

The universities decision to support Bester’s PhD status despite his continued criminal and inappropriate behaviour poses a clear threat to other university students, and in particular the underage students whom attend campus for pre-university units.

This is ironic given the university sectors national commitment to creating safer campus environments after the release of the national union of students women’s survey last year which showed that over 72% of women experience some form of sexual harassment or violence while studying.

Sign the petition to demand that the University respect their commitment to improving student safety, by immediately terminating Nicholas Bester’s Phd scholarship, and banning him from attending all University of Tasmania campuses.

*Under Federal and state legislation, universities’ are autonomous self-accrediting institutions. The university has the authority to terminate a PhD student position according to its own policies.