La Trobe University Council has passed a Code of Conduct (7/12/99) that constrains academic freedom of speech and accordingly the following comments are made as a citizen of Australia and NOT as a member of staff of La Trobe University.
I strongly believe that the core academic ethos involves commitment to truth, reason and free speech.
I publicly opposed the proposed Code of Conduct constraints on academic free speech over the last few years by repeatedly communicating with fellow academics, the NTEU, the academic hierarchy, politicians, intellectual journals and the media.
In 1998 I consented to be interviewed by The Australian over my being subject to a Corporate-University "no competition" agreement to which I am neither privy nor a signatory. I subsequently felt compelled to provide very detailed, lengthy (circa 6 page) explanations in response to successive, very detailed "please explain" letters from the University. A third letter from the University foreshadowed more of the same as a result of an ABC "Background Briefing" interview on academic freedom.
On 19th August 1999 I wrote an Open Letter to the Council of La Trobe University ("Gagging academics - death of the university?") in response to their request for comments on a proposed Code of Conduct that would constrain academic free speech.
A key passage of this Open Letter stated: "In the opinion of many academics, any proposed or enacted punitive rules that threaten or inhibit academic freedom of inquiry and free speech will prevent academics from doing their jobs properly, soil their lives, damage the reputation of the university and diminish a free society".
On 5th October 1999 an Australian Industrial Relations Commissioner stated in judgement in relation to the proposed Code of Conduct: "it is my recommendation that: the NTEIU and its members cease making public comments or communicating with members of the University Council". An amended Code of Conduct was passed by the Council on 7/12/99.
My Open Letter was essentially published by The Australian Humanist (Summer, 1999, 11-12), Tirra Lirra (Spring, 4-5, 1999), on the Web by the Association for the Public University (APU) (1999) and by The Beacon (February, 2000). In late 1999 The Age published letters by me concerned with equitable access to tertiary education (31/10/99 & 15/12/99) and articles quoting me and concerned with the gagging of academics ("Gagged", 1/12/99 & "University Inc.", 11/12/99).
From the middle of December 1999, in addition to some major setbacks, I have suffered an extraordinary series of diminutions of my academic life, the overall effect of which is a highly obnoxious working environment as outlined in the attachments.
In summary, these diminutions include:
1. constraints on freedom of speech as an academic;
3. continued non-provision of requested unexceptionable information about the names and addresses of the authors and likely recipients of these incorrect assertions (see 2);
4. continued non-provision of requested information about continued non-provision of explicit university financial support for my laboratory in 2000;
5. repeated (after midnight?) invasion of my laboratory, office and PC and alteration of computer records in the fortnight before Christmas 1999 (facilitated by apparently singular non-protection of my PC by my official PC password);
6. loss of vital laboratory equipment;
7. vandalizing and defacement of my laboratory door with a sign "GO" in January 2000 just prior to my "official" return from annual holidays.
I am historically obliged to inform others about any inappropriate circumstances.
Hopefully this information will be of use to the NTEU and others (such as the APU) concerned with current academic realities.
Gideon Maxwell Polya
La Trobe University
Suppression of dissent website
in the section on Documents
in the subsection on Australian university speech codes