Science ‘Revolution Needed To Save Academic Free Speech’

  • Date: 20/06/19
  • The Australian

It will take a revolution to recover academic freedom from the groupthinking bureaucrats who exert control over corporate universities, says a physics professor sacked after going public with climate science criticism.

Professor Peter Ridd. Picture: Cameron Laird.

Peter Ridd, whose academic freedom was upheld by a court in April, said the higher education sector’s claim of “no crisis” was disproved by its resistance to the French review of campus free speech.

“(Nothing will change) unless we have, essentially, a revolution with the universities,” he says in an Institute of Public Affairs podcast out tomorrow.

He backed Education Minister Dan Tehan’s campaign for a model free speech code suggested by former High Court chief justice Robert French.

In April, peak lobby Universities Australia gave the French report a cool reception — warning against imposition of rules “aimed at solving a problem that has not been demonstrated to exist” — but since the May 18 election several institutions have trumpeted new pro-freedom statements.

James Cook University dismissed Professor Ridd last year, saying it had nothing to do with his criticism of climate science methods but was for “denigrating the university” and talking about the disciplinary investigation against him.

JCU found Professor Ridd in breach of a “no satire” order after he emailed a student a newspaper article on the investigation, with the comment “for your amusement”.

Professor Ridd said the bureaucrats believed “they are on the side of the angels”.

Matthew McGowan, of the National Tertiary Education Union, said universities in bargaining had tried to move protection of academic freedom out of enterprise agreements.

Professor Ridd, who won his court case because of the enterprise agreement, said the root problem was that over the past 20 years “the administrators have taken all the power (from) the professoriate”.

Higher education was once run in a collegial way by academics but universities had enrolled many more students, raised more of their own revenue and created bureaucratic fiefdoms.

“Almost from top to bottom (universities are) full of the same type of people and we’ve got to get more genuine diversity of views in the universities,” Professor Ridd said.

He felt for academics with mortgages and worried about the next redundancy round, but said most “don’t really care about academic freedom, (most) are doing stuff that’s uncontroversial, or if it is controversial, they are on the politically correct side”.

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