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:: College backs student over film mocking the disabled ::
A film mocking disabled people, submitted as a student’s thesis, has provoked a furious row in Australia which has led to the suspension of two senior academics who criticised the project. John Hookham and Gary MacLennan were suspended without pay after being accused of jeopardising academic freedom. The film, called Laughing at the Disabled, featured two mentally handicapped men who were sent into a bar to ask if there were any women looking for romance. One of them was severely beaten by a drunken Aboriginal woman. The young men were also supplied with outsized, comically shaped pencils, and filmed struggling to write down the answers to questions that they had been told to ask by the film-maker, a student at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). The lecturers were suspended for six months after they condemned the film as an example of a ruling culture whose slogan was “the grosser, the better”. They spoke out publicly after attending an academics’ PhD projects approval meeting where rushes from the film were shown. Included was a scene in which Michael Noonan, the first-year PhD student, asked the men what they would do if one woman fancied both of them. One of the disabled men, identified as William — who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, which can lead to marked deficiencies in social skills — twitched and was unable to answer, provoking raucous laughter from the audience. After failing to halt the project in appeals to university administrators, Dr Hookham and Dr MacClennan made their concerns public in a scathing article for The Australian newspaper, titled “Philistines of relativism at the gates”. It said that the project showed the amoral influence of postmodernism within the university’s creative industries faculty, in which both are senior lecturers. The student newspaper had quoted one of their faculty’s academics as saying that it was evil to teach students that Shakespeare was more worthy than the reality television show Big Brother, they said. Their article outraged university administrators, who suspended them. Peter Coaldrake, the Vice-Chancellor, said that they had stepped out of line by threatening Mr Noonan’s academic freedom. “That’s really the beginning and the end of it,” Dr Coaldrake said. “I mean, people can say it’s an attack on academic freedom, people can say it’s the university taking sides in the disability debate. Neither is reasonable, both are nonsense propositions.” Mr Noonan has the backing of Spectrum, a group that helps disabled people to cope in main-stream society. He said that his film — part of a planned television series — had the full approval of the parents and guardians of the disabled men. “It looks like they were in a vulnerable situation when they were not,” he said
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