Another incident involved him putting a sign on the university’s Chinese government-funded Confucius Institute in March, declaring it was a COVID-19 “biohazard” and posting a photo of the act on Facebook. Others involved his commentary about vice-chancellor Peter Hoj and the university and crass comments towards other students.
Mr Pavlou said many of the allegations were “frivolous” and “petty”, focusing on satirical comments he had made in online forums.
“They have trawled through to find anything they can throw at me,” he said. “How many other students have posted risqué stuff online and gotten a 186-page document outlining complaints?”
He said the university was targeting him because of his political activism and wanted to intimidate him into silence or expel him.
A spokeswoman for the university said it expected students to comply with conduct policies and charters “that reflect both the organisation’s values and community expectations”. The disciplinary process was to deal with alleged contraventions, the spokeswoman said.
“Tthe university rejects Mr Pavlou’s statement that the university’s process is an attempt to penalise him for airing his political beliefs,” she said.
Olivia Brumm, president of the student guild at the Queensland University of Technology, has reviewed the complaints document and said the university had highlighted a number of “absurdly trivial or obviously satirical” statements, compiling them “to make it seem like a significant case”.
“I genuinely think it spreads like a personal vendetta by UQ against one of their students and it really does bring into focus the issue of free speech and expression,” she said.
An online petition in support of Mr Pavlou had gathered 10,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.
Liberal MPs James Paterson, Tim Wilson and Amanda Stoker – who have been vocal in the debate about free speech at universities and critical of Chinese government influence on campuses – urged the university to tread carefully.
Senator Paterson said he had never met Mr Pavlou and would likely disagree with him on most political issues but he was “alarmed by the possibility he is being punished for his activism on China”.
“I haven’t seen the allegations against him but they would have to be incredibly serious to justify expulsion. I would be gravely concerned if they relate to the free speech he has every right to exercise as a student, and I will be watching the outcome very closely,” he said.
Mr Wilson said: “The justification the university provides will be fascinating as they can be guaranteed any decision will hawkishly and aggressively scrutinised.”
Senator Stoker said freedom of speech was vital to universities fulfilling their purpose.
“If he were to be expelled for robustly expressing pro-democracy views about Hong Kong, that would be wholly unacceptable and cause to ask whether the uni is meeting the public purpose which justifies its public funding. That said, I don’t know the full details of the complaints he has been asked to answer,” she said.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.