RMITs policy forbidding staff to make public comments outside their areas of professional competence (HES, August 24) should be alarming for anyone concerned about the state of academic freedom in Australia.
This is not the only case in which a university administration has tried to limit contributions by academics to public debate. For example, the University of Wollongong Council issued a directive to this effect in 1988 and the University of NSW administration in 1989.
The main problem is that regulations like this, by being interpreted and enforced in a selective manner, can be used to attack individuals with unpopular views. The result is that those with dissenting views or with knowledge of corruption are less likely to speak out.
In my view, it is better for universities to risk an occasional association with unorthodox or unpleasant views by staff members than to be a party to the muzzling of public debate. Rather than stifling free speech like many corporations and government departments, universities should be seeking to expand opportunities for workers in all occupations to be able to speak out.
Disappointingly, it seems difficult for some university administrators to muster the courage to foster rather than inhibit the intellectual debate that should be the life blood of any community of scholars.
The best way for university staff members to respond is to ignore the regulations and to maintain their free speech by exercising it.
Science and Technology Studies
University of Wollongong
Suppression of dissent website
in the section on Documents
in the subsection on Australian university speech codes