RMIT in bid to gag staff comment

Published in the Australian, 24 August 1994, p. 32.

RMIT has forbidden staff to make public statements beyond their areas of expertise, drawing criticism from the National Tertiary Education Union, which has described the university policy as like "punching a beehive".

The edict, issued as a memo to staff, allows only the vice-chancellor or the chancellor to speak for the university "when any public statements concerning the affairs, plans or policies of the university are required".

The NTEU's Victorian secretary, Mr Ted Murphy, said: "Putting out a policy like this is like punching a beehive - people are going to react. The policy becomes a cause for public comment in itself - everyone will ask what RMIT has to hide."

The memo continues: "On such matters no written or verbal statement should be made by a member of staff without the prior approval of the vice-chancellor.

"Staff who are approached on such matters should contact the director, university relations, who will ascertain the university's official position and deal with the matter accordingly."

The memo allows staff to make public comments as private citizens "without restriction", but says: "Regard should be paid to the official position of the university and its reputation and interest."

The administration also insists that where staff comment within their expertise, the university's public relations manager "should be notified".

The director of university relations, Ms Susan Cottle, defended the memo as "more of an awareness (raising exercise)" and conceded the policy was unenforceable.

The university wished to ensure that if staff were commenting on areas outside their expertise, "they got it right and did not jeopardise consultative processes by leaking material".

"The policy refers to plans and the university's reputation - it's not a matter of freedom of speech, for people with a point of view to make, make it and do," she said.

Mr Murphy said it was "ludicrous" to expect that staff would not comment publicly o matters such as amalgamations and industrial disputes.


This document is located on

Suppression of dissent website

in the section on Documents

in the subsection on Australian university speech codes