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Uni faces heat over lecturer’s Syrian talks

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in conversation with Tim Anderson la...

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meets with Tim Anderson last year. Source: AFP

SYDNEY University is under increasing pressure to take action over the meeting between Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and an Australian delegation that included senior lecturer Tim Anderson.

A group of federal MPs has written to vice-chancellor Michael Spence to express concern about the meeting, which took place late last year.

The group is being co-ordinated by Andrew Nikolic, the Liberal MP for Bass, who spent nearly 30 years in the armed forces, including as a UN military observer in the Middle East at the time of the first Gulf War in the early 90s.

Signatories include Josh Frydenberg, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, and former West Australian treasurer Christian Porter.

"Now is the time for the leadership of Sydney University to tell us what it thinks of its senior lecturer's activities," Mr Nikolic told The Australian.

"The UN estimates that over 100,000 people have died during the current Syrian conflict. International sanctions are in place against the Assad regime.

"In providing this media opportunity for Assad and supporting the Assad regime, Anderson is in direct conflict with UN resolutions and Australia's diplomacy."

The letter to Dr Spence says the visit has "been exploited for propaganda purposes by Syrian authorities, who claim the Australian delegation's purpose was to express solidarity with the Assad regime and to oppose Western intervention" and warns Dr Anderson's participation could damage "Sydney University's proud reputation for academic excellence".

It asks whether Dr Anderson's "radical" views are endorsed by the university, whether he was required to notify or seek its approval before going to Syria, and if his actions were consistent with the university's values and code of conduct.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said he could understand the concerns of Mr Nikolic and his colleagues.

"Obviously, many members of parliament are concerned to ensure that the reputation for high quality that Australian universities have earned over decades is not threatened in any way," Mr Pyne said.

"The issue is uniquely in the hands of Sydney University."

He urged the university's authorities "to maintain the reputation and the quality of their institution".

A spokeswoman for the university said the university would wait until it had received the letter before responding.

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