Semper editor Raphael Wixted told us in this year’s second edition that he had tried to register a dodgeball team in UQ’s social sport using two team names “Peter Døj and the Vice Chancellors” and “I showed you my Døjballs please respond”.
We’re not saying this is an outrageously funny joke. But what we also don’t consider a laughing matter is that this came just a week after the real Vice Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj, whose name is pronounced ‘hoy’, told ABC Radio that he would not censor students in the replacement Schonell Theatre.
Specifically, Professor Høj said that “in this day and age, we are very keen to secure freedom of speech and freedom of expression at our university venues, and I don’t recall, certainly in my tenure, any time that we have stopped the students from saying what they want to.”
“If the students are critical of me, they don’t take refuge in the Schonell Theatre and be critical of me, they will do it when they feel like it.
“I’m again very hopeful that the University will remain a space that people, without fear, can put forward an opinion, even if it’s different from ours,” he said.
And keep in mind, this was all while pointedly avoiding making any comment about whether the University would take over control of the new theatre. He wanted these comments to be heard as the University being trustworthy when it comes to protecting free and uncensored speech, even when it criticises the Vice Chancellor.
Which is why it was so baffling that a week later, a University organisation prohibited the use of even the simplest of jokes about the Vice Chancellor. UQ Sport told Raph and his team that their chosen names were “too closely associated with the Vice Chancellor’s name”, and therefore couldn’t be used.
Raph thought this was surely a mistake and sent an email to the Vice Chancellor himself to clear up this error. Being the busy dear leader that he is, he did not reply directly. But a reply email came from his executive assistant, and reiterated that “our Vice-Chancellor’s name is Peter Høj so maybe your suggestion won’t work.”
I could forgive his executive secretary for perhaps not having heard his promise to ABC Radio listeners that the University is a venue for the free and open exchange of ideas no matter how critical. I assumed that this error could only have happened if the Vice-Chancellor had not seen any of these emails or even heard of the error on the part of UQ Sport.
So I sent a follow-up email, letting Vice-Chancellor and Professor Peter Høj know that people were acting in his name, but not acting out his values of free speech. A response came back from his office which baffled me.
“Hi Rowan – the Vice-Chancellor has asked me to respond to you on your query about the social sport team name,” it began. At least, finally, I had proof that Professor Høj had read this one,” the email read.
“The captain of the team asked Peter for permission to use his name, but the intended pun – Døj – didn’t make sense as Peter’s surname is Høj.”
“I want to assure you there was never any censorship intended.”
Let me reiterate. The Vice-Chancellor’s office claims they didn’t “intend” to censor students. But they still refused to “grant permission” to a joke that they didn’t understand.
This leaves several questions open.
Why do jokes have to make sense before they can be used as team names?
Why does the Vice-Chancellor (or his office) have final say over the which jokes are understandable?
If the joke doesn’t make sense, wouldn’t it only embarrass Raphael and his team, not the Vice-Chancellor? Isn’t it our inalienable right as undergraduates to make dumb jokes and learn from them in our own time?
If the upper brass of the University are taking the side of UQ Sport on a joke as simple as this, what happens when someone wants to make a bigger, genuinely challenging joke at a theatre that the Vice-Chancellor controls?
After the edition containing this article went to the printers, we received further communication from the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
“I’ve spoken to the Vice-Chancellor, and he has no issue with the team using Døj in the title of their team,” the same correspondent from the office wrote.
It remains unclear, at least until semester two, whether this change of heart means that Raph will be able to embarrass himself with UQ Sport names about the Vice-Chancellor.
Art for this piece was made by Rebecca Kilpatrick.