Union big win on academic freedom

The Federal Court has found the University of Sydney’s code of conduct is subordinate to clauses in its enterprise agreement protecting the exercise of intellectual and academic freedom

The ruling is in the court decision to allow an appeal against the university sacking political science lecturer Tim Anderson. Dr Anderson superimposed a swastika over an Israeli flag in a Power Point presentation. On the basis of this and subsequent comments the university dismissed him for breaching its code of conduct.

Dr Anderson and the National Tertiary Education Union sued the university but lost in the Federal Court which found him in breach of the code of conduct. However, they appealed and yesterday the court found Dr Anderson was protected by the legally enforceable enterprise agreement.

“ The relevant issue cannot be the level of offence which the conduct generates or the insensitivity which it involves. The issue is only whether the conduct involves the exercise of the right of intellectual freedom in accordance with cll 315 and 317” (of the enterprise agreement) judges Jagot and Rangiah state.

The case will now return to the original judge.

This is a big win for the NTEU, with the university’s code of conduct subordinate to the enterprise agreement the union negotiated with Uni Sydney on behalf of staff. The judgement “reinforces the primacy and importance of our collective agreements in protecting intellectual and academic freedom,” NTEU General Secretary Matthew McGowan said yesterday,

However, while the union is pleased with the outcome it does not mention the details of the case in its statement.

There is another case in the courts that involves the protection an enterprise agreement provides an academic. The High Court is considering scientist Peter Ridd’s appeal against James Cook U dismissing him for breaching its code of conduct over his public commentary on science at the university. Dr Ridd says he was protected by freedoms specified in the then applicable JCU enterprise agreement.