Australia: University attacks a professor who defended students and academic integrity
International solidarity is mobilised after Murdoch University in Australia sues Associate Professor Gerd Schroeder-Turk for whistleblowing.
In May 2019, Associate Professor Gerd Schroeder-Turk, a member of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), employed by Murdoch University, appeared on Australia’s premier investigative journalism TV Programme 4 Corners with two other members from Murdoch and others from other universities. The programme was investigating potential exploitation of international students in Australia.
Schroeder-Turk expressed concerns for the health and welfare of the students, as well as the academic integrity of the degree programmes, and explained that he had repeatedly attempted to raise the issues internally without success.
Shortly after the programme aired, the University sought to have him removed from his role as the elected representative of academic staff on the university’s governing body, the Senate, therefore removing the only elected academic voice at the University’s highest level of governance.
Schroeder-Turk acted to prevent the removal and any other punitive actions as a result of his whistleblowing. In response, the University is now suing him, alleging that he is responsible for what may amount to millions of dollars in damages.
“This is an outrageous attack on academic freedom and an assault on whistleblower protections that would inevitably lead to an increased reluctance on the part of university workers to come forward and raise issues of public importance,” NTEU National President Alison Barnes warned. She added that “most importantly, we believe that academics have a responsibility to speak out on issues of student welfare and that if they are silenced, exploitation of vulnerable students may increase”.
NTEU notes that, according to the UNESCO 1997 Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching personnel, participation in university governing bodies and criticism of the functioning of higher education institutions is not only a right but a professional responsibility of university staff and students.
The mediation on the court action will take place on 31 October 2019.
Show your support by:
- Reading NTEU’s policy statement here;
- Signing the NTEU petition condemning Murdoch University's action against Schroeder-Turk here;
- Posting on social media using #IStandWithGerd.
David Edwards, Education International General Secretary, stated: “We stand with Gerd. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are crucial for quality education in particular, and for democratic societies in general. Targeting whistleblowers is not an honest solution, it is an attempt by the university to avoid responsibility for their own business-minded and ethically questionable choices. We condemn Murdoch University's legal action against Gerd Schroeder-Turk and demand that it be dropped immediately.”
The case has received attention and support from colleagues and students from Australia and other countries, including the UK, where the University and College Union expressed their solidarity and asked for the lawsuit to be dropped.