Free Speech

16 October 2017

Tensions have flared once again in the ongoing enterprise bargaining process between the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the University of Melbourne Administration.

This time, the point of contention is over how academic freedom should be protected within the University.

The issue first came to light when the NTEU published an open letter addressed to Vice Chancellor, Glyn Davis, claiming that protections of academic freedom were being removed from the proposed agreement. It expressed concerns about the possibility of “dismissal of staff based on … publicly expressed opinions or scientific conclusions”.

According to the letter, picked up by The Age in coverage the University declared false, academic freedom would subsequently be protected only by “policy that council may change at any time” and therefore “has no real force”.

In response, a University spokesperson claimed the University “firmly believes that academic freedom is too important to be governed through an industrial agreement”, asserting that it “would not and could not lawfully dismiss academics on the basis of them making controversial public comments”.

Vice President (Academic) of the NTEU’s Melbourne branch, Professor Christian Haesemeyer, is concerned by the University’s proposal.

“[University administration] want to make it possible to dismiss academics for serious misconduct [without review] … one form of serious misconduct, according to the Fair Work Act, is actions that damage the reputation of the employer.”

“Our interpretation of the proposed agreement by the University is that they could summarily dismiss an academic [for serious misconduct] … including expressing academic freedom.”

A spokesperson for the University rejects these concerns.

“Academic freedom is not an administrative policy. It is a University Council policy … binding across the University [created by] a body which includes representatives elected by staff and students as well as external members of the University community.”

The current policy is not up for review until 2021.

One thing both parties do agree on is the importance of academic freedom.

“Academic freedom is a core value of the University of Melbourne,” the University’s letter reads.

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