THE Victorian government has been called on to intervene to prevent La Trobe University attempting to gag members of its council and staff.
A new code of conduct adopted in December gives a majority of council members the power to remove one of their own if they decide the code has been breached.
But this appears to be contrary to the Victorian act establishing La Trobe, in which only the government has authority to appoint or remove certain council members.
The code says once elected to council, a member must act "in the interests of the university", not make improper use of information or their position, and "serve the interests of council before the interests of others".
It says a member who does not abide by these rules may be removed at the discretion of council.
The La Trobe branch of the National Tertiary Education Union says the code is an unacceptable attempt to limit free speech and usurps state Parliament's authority by establishing rules to discipline council members, even though the act establishing the university does not provide for such rules.
The NTEU has called on the Minister for Postcompulsory Education and Training, Lynne Kosky, to investigate the issue and invoke temporary withdrawal of assent for the council's operations.
The branch also objects to the code of conduct applying to academic and general staff which it says also infringes their rights to free speech by trying to intimidate them.
"The university's attempt to gag its own staff is bad enough but to try and gag the council is without precedent and probably illegal," Cassidy, a member of La Trobe's law faculty, said.
"The rest of the code is just badly-drafted window dressing for a collection of 'muzzle clauses' designed to suppress dissent. References to acting in the university's best interests were doublespeak for management's best interests," Cassidy said.
"The council is still dominated by Kennett Government appointees and a group of management-friendly non-academics. However, with the change of government, this balance might alter and the administration is trying to get secrecy and compliance entrenched via the code before this happens."
Cassidy said that under the code, academics could be charged with misconduct for not "maintaining and enhancing the reputation of the university" by speaking out publicly on issues concerning La Trobe.
Suppression of dissent website
in the section on Documents
in the subsection on Australian university speech codes