17 Oct 2014

Australian professor in racism row

7:45 pm on 17 October 2014

The University of Sydney has suspended a professor and government education adviser for sending racist emails.

Sydney University

Sydney University. Photo: AFP

Prof Barry Spurr referred to Aboriginal people as "human rubbish tips" and used racist terms to refer to Muslims and Asians in Australia, the BBC reported.

The poetry professor said the emails were part of a "whimsical" game, but students are demanding his dismissal.

In a recent review of the curriculum, Prof Spurr had advised that schools teach less Aboriginal literature.

The emails were obtained by Australian magazine New Matilda, which said they had been sent to about a dozen people, including officials and academics at the university between September 2012 and late 2014.

In them Prof Spurr refers to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott an "Abo-lover" - an offensive term for Aborigines - and to Nelson Mandela as a "darky".

The magazine said he also referred to the "modern Brit" as "the scum of the earth".

'Mocking repartee'

Prof Spurr does not deny sending the emails but told New Matilda that they were part of a "whimsical linguistic game".

They were not a reflection of his views nor the recipients', but were "repartee, mocking, in fact, that very kind of extreme language", the magazine quoted him as saying.

He said he had always treated all his students with "equity and dignity".

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said in a statement the emails were a matter for Prof Spurr but called them "repugnant".

He said the government had not made the decision to appoint Prof Spurr as a consultant for the review of the national English curriculum. He was brought on as a specialist advisor by the heads of the review, he said.

One of Prof Spurr's contributions to the review had been to advise the government to focus less on teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature. Instead he advocated a stronger emphasis on Western writing.

Prof Spurr wrote that "the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially that from Britain, on our literary culture".

Michelle Rowland, the opposition spokesperson on multiculturalism, said Mr Pyne could not just distance himself from the comments.

"The buck must surely stop with someone, and it must stop with the minister," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The University of Sydney said in a statement: "Racist, sexist or offensive language is not tolerated at the University of Sydney."

The university has suspended Prof Spurr but the the BBC's Jon Donnison in Sydney said students there are calling for him to be sacked.

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