20.5.08

Speak against transport privatisation and you may lose your job!

Dr Paul Mees—one of the few academics whose community contribution is accessible and public through the general media—was demoted for speaking out against the further privatisation of what is left of Melbourne meagre public transport system. In a concerted move between State Government and the university authorities, a decision was made to ‘downgrade’ Dr Mees for making his views public. During a forum on the privatisation of Melbourne public transport, in August last year, Dr Mees claimed that figures presented by the government on the results of privatisation were “deliberately misleading”. (C. Lucas. “Melbourne Uni demotes transport dissident”, The Age, 20/05/08). The situation raises concerns about the right of academics to engage and support the community against government agendas that have already had and will continue to have a detrimental impact in their quality of living and the quality of the urban space.

The following statement by The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) identifies some of the issues in play, one of which is the ‘reputation’ of the university in question. The NTEU’s comments are commendable and show a level of solidarity unfashionable within some academic circles. However, for educational institutions such as the University of Melbourne, ‘reputation’ is accompanied by a dollar figure. Issues of freedom of expression and intellectual rigour (including ethical behaviour), as demonstrated by this action, have long taken a backstage.

In the attack, made at a public forum last year, Dr Mees said the authors of a 2007 report on privatisation were "liars and frauds and should be in jail". (http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/uni-damaged-over-dissident-row/2008/05/20/1211182764879.html)

Given that Dr Mees has for long researched into the situation of Melbourne Public Transport, Dr Mees comments are just what academics like to call a very comprehensive “plain English Statement”.

In a statement issued today, the National Tertiary Education Union said the University of Melbourne's reputation and standing as an institution upholding the highest standards of intellectual rigour and academic freedom had been damaged by its handling of the issue. Union state secretary Matthew McGowan said the university, in its own collective agreement, committed itself to "upholding the scholarly values of intellectual freedom, honesty, openness and rigour, consistent with the university's vision" and defined intellectual freedom as "the freedom of academic staff ... to engage in critical inquiry, intellectual discourse and public controversy without fear or favour, but does not include the right to harass, intimidate or vilify". ) http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/uni-damaged-over-dissident-row/2008/05/20/1211182764879.html

Beatriz C. Maturana

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