U of Melbourne staff demand protection for their right to speak up

Policy is no protection, codified rights are, they say

Staff at the University of Melbourne have long worried that some in management would prefer them to confine their comments to articles in obscure journals. There was a flurry in the winter of 2016 over a proposed appropriate behaviour policy which would restrict academics to speaking only on areas of expertise  ( CMM August 1 2016 and  CMM August 10). But the idea appeared to go away when the university reiterated its policy commitment; “to preserve, defend and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of its affairs … so that all scholars at the university are free to engage in critical enquiry, scholarly endeavour and public discourse without fear or favour”.

But not every was, or is, convinced. Six senior scholars have kick-started a campaign to demand the university retain protections of academic and intellectual freedom, and against summary dismissal that are in the existing Enterprise Agreement in the replacement now being negotiated.

Associate professors Larry Abel and Susan Ainsworth and professors Sean Cooney, Beth Gaze, Christian Haesemeyer and Frances Separovic have written to Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis asking the university “to agree to the continued protection of academic and intellectual freedom in negotiations for a new agreement.”

“We appreciate the expression of commitment to academic freedom contained in university policy; however, this policy provides no legal remedy and therefore does not offer protection against the dismissal of staff based on their publicly expressed opinions or scientific conclusions,” they write

“Only when academic freedom is enshrined as in a legally binding agreement, which includes the protection against summary dismissal for expression of unpopular positions, can it be said to truly afford the independence of thought that ground breaking research and challenging and fruitful teaching require.”

Which is where everybody was when this issue arose two years ago.