Australia: Melbourne university staff strike to defend academic freedom


Australia: Melbourne university staff strike to defend academic freedom

Patrick O’Connor

7 May 2018

Academic and professional staff members at the University of Melbourne will stop work for four hours on Wednesday in protest against management’s efforts to remove references to academic and intellectual freedom in an enterprise bargaining agreement.

The University of Melbourne’s moves to undermine academic freedom are part of an ongoing corporate restructuring of the Australian tertiary education sector. Through the “reforms” and multi-billion dollar finding cuts of successive Labor and Liberal-National governments, universities have been transformed into privatised and corporatised entities.

Students are now lucrative “customers,” with education an industry classified among Australia’s most profitable export sectors. An increasingly casualised and precarious academic workforce is employed on the basis of its ability to deliver “marketable” content.

Academic freedom—that is, the ability of university researchers to use their knowledge and expertise to make public statements regardless of any opposing political and commercial interests of their employers—is now regarded by the Australian ruling class as an antiquated and dangerous threat.

University of Melbourne staff were previously covered by an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) that specified that academic freedom allowed its staff to “engage in critical enquiry, intellectual discourse and public controversy without fear or favour, but does not include the right to harass, intimidate or vilify.”

This clause has been removed from the draft agreement that university management has proposed the National Tertiary and Education Union (NTEU) accept in negotiations that have been held over…

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