Professor Barry Spurr suspended by University of Sydney after racist emails
The Sydney Morning Herald, October 17, 2014
Amy McNeilage Reporter
The University of Sydney has suspended Barry Spurr after the professor was exposed for referring to people as “abos”, “bogans”, “fatsoes”, “Mussies” and “Chinky-Poos” in a series of leaked emails.
The university released a statement on Friday saying he was suspended, effective immediately, “from teaching and engaging in any other University business and is precluded from attending any University campus, while the matter is investigated”.
A snap rally was called for 1pm on Friday to demand the dismissal of the leading academic in poetry, who was employed as a specialist consultant to make recommendations to the federal government’s review of the national English curriculum.
Under pressure to resign: Professor Barry Spurr says the emails were part of a “linguistic game”. Photo: James Brickwood
Indigenous student Kyol Blakeney, the incoming president of the university’s Students’ Representative Council, said he felt angry and personally hurt when he read the leaked emails, which referred to Aboriginal people as “human rubbish tips”.
“I felt a bit belittled,” he said. “The work that the indigenous students and staff have done to build a profile is a tremendous amount and to know there are still academic staff in our university who think those things is quite sad.”
He said it was upsetting to hear racist comments come “from a place I thought I had support from”.
Kyol Blakeney: “I felt belittled”. Photo: Supplied
“I mainly think about the indigenous students who would have been in his lecture theatres and sitting there learning from this person and then going away to read that and find out that a person who gives you knowledge is also a person that doesn’t really think much of you as a person for being who you are.”
On a Facebook event about the planned rally, students were discussing possible chants to use:
• “Professor Spurr, rhyme this, you’re a white supremacist.”
• “Racism, no way, we’re gonna get Spurr sacked today.”
• “Christian values load of shit. You’re a f—ing hypocrite.”
• “Say it loud, say it clear, Barry is not welcome here.”
The offensive emails, which were published on the New Matilda website on Thursday, have been widely condemned by students, academics, the university and politicians from across the spectrum.
The Students’ Representative Council’s education officer, Ridah Hassan, said the “utterly reprehensible” emails had been met with outrage from across the university community.
“Such vile, bigotry belongs back in the 1950s and it has no place at Sydney University,” she said. “The emails contained such hate speech. It is beyond belief that this person could hold these views and retain his position. We are calling for his dismissal and it needs to happen immediately.”
The university released a statement saying it was “deeply disturbed” and was investigating the offensive emails.
The president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the “shocking emails” damaged the credibility of the national curriculum review and showed it was an ideological exercise with little value.
“These shocking, appalling and deeply offensive emails must call into question Professor Spurr’s suitability to have been chosen as a specialist reviewer of the English curriculum,” he said. “These views have no place in contemporary Australia and those harbouring them should not influence what is taught in our schools.”
Professor Spurr argued the comments were part of a “whimsical linguistic game” that mocked “extreme language”.
He said they did not reflect his personal views nor his professional judgment of Aboriginal literature, which is part of his role as a consultant to the national curriculum review.
A spokesman for Christopher Pyne said the Education Minister found “repugnant the denigration of any minority on the basis of their sex, race, sexual orientation or beliefs”.