The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) welcomed today’s landmark Federal Court judgment that ruled University of Sydney staff have a legal right to be protected from disciplinary action when exercising intellectual or academic freedom, under the terms of the NTEU collective workplace agreement.
The appeal decision found that the University of Sydney collective agreement contains a legally enforceable right for staff to exercise intellectual and academic freedom.
The decision found that the employer-written code of conduct was subordinate to the union collective agreement when it came to protecting the rights of staff to express academic and intellectual opinions.
“We’re very pleased with this result, it reinforces the primacy and importance of our collective agreements in protecting intellectual and academic freedom,” NTEU General Secretary Matthew McGowan said today.
“NTEU has long advocated for the rights of all higher education staff to speak freely about their work and express ideas, whether they be controversial or unpopular, and to criticise higher education institutions, so long as they do so in accordance with scholarly norms. The Federal Court today upheld this position.”
“Without this right, university staff cannot perform their important work on the development and expansion of knowledge. The freedom to express ideas without fear or favour is absolutely fundamental to university work. Those ideas are best tested by the academy itself,” added Mr McGowan.
“Universities must stop being obsessed with protecting their reputations and their ‘brands’ and start ensuring their staff are provided with the freedom to do their important work.”
Mr McGowan said that the NTEU has a proud record of defending the principles of intellectual and academic freedom.
“We do not take a position about what academics say when we are defending this integral principle – it is not our role to do that. It is our role to protect the right to say it.”
“NTEU has supported academics Peter Ridd, Roz Ward and recently Gerd Schroder-Turk on academic freedom issues. We support our members who face adverse responses from university management while doing their work, and we always will.”