The University Council recently endorsed a statement on 'Conditions for use of University's name'. This statement says that staff members when making public statements should not use the University's name or address unless what they say relates directly to the academic discipline in which they hold an appointment.
I believe this policy is unwise for a number of reasons.
First, it is of advantage for the University to be seen to be involved in current social issues rather than remote in its ivory tower. The Council's statement would seriously restrict the visibility of this involvement. According to the statement, it would be quite acceptable for me, in a discipline that deals with the politics of medical technology, to comment as an academic on the linear accelerator planned for Wollongong, whereas someone in Economics, for example, would not be allowed to identify themselves as a member of the University in commenting. This consequence is unwelcome and invidious.
Second, public comment from University staff members identified as such would be restricted to the present rather arbitrary academic disciplines. No one except from Education could identify themselves as a university staff member when commenting on Dawkins' plan for reshaping higher education.
Even a paper in a scholarly journal can be interpreted as a 'public statement', and indeed scholarly contributions are often used by journalists as a basis for stories. Does this mean that we cannot submit papers on university letterhead to journals outside our academic discipline? There are cases in which staff members have scholarly reputations in fields outside their official 'academic discipline', as in the case of numerous contributions to peace and war studies. Must these now all be submitted from private addresses?
My third and greatest concern is that regulations of this sort can be used to victimise dissidents or disliked figures. Because there is great scope for interpretation and selective enforcement, the result of such regulations at other institutions has often been to hush up those who are expressing unpopular views or exposing corruption. In the CSIRO, for example, regulations have been used in this way, for instance to prevent publication of environmental research and to inhibit public discussion of sensitive issues. I would be happy to supply examples privately.
If the university is to be a promoter of free intellectual expression, then it should take a tolerant view regarding public statements. In my opinion it is better for the University to risk being associated with the occasional extreme or unpleasant view by a staff member than to be associated with attempts to muzzle public debate. Such attempts have been associated with nasty and long-lasting conflicts at some other universities, with unpleasant consequences for their public image.
Rather than trying to emulate the government and corporate bastions of intellectual orthodoxy, the university should be trying to expand the ability of workers in other occupations to speak out on all manner of issues.
Barry Jones, the federal Minister for Science, has accused Australian scientists of being wimps because they do not speak out to inform the government and community of the value of their work. The University of Wollongong Council's statement seems to require its scientists to become and remain wimps by not speaking out as members of the university on the wider issues of funding and the general value of science to the community.
The Council made little attempt to consult with University staff in developing its statement. Perhaps the appropriate response from staff is to follow suit and ignore consultation when it becomes important to speak out on issues of social importance.
Dr Brian Martin
Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies
The statement on conditions for use of the University's name is prepared in two parts to cover commercial activities and public statements. It appears in full, below.
The name of the University or of a section thereof shall not be used in connection with any outside activity of a business or commercial nature, except with the prior consent of the Council. The Council will not give such consent if the use of the name is in any way related to advertising, and may, in its absolute discretion, give or withhold its consent in any other case after considering the application for consent and any other matters which it may consider relevant.
(1) Official statements in the name of the University shall be authorised by the Council, the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor or the University Secretary.
(2) All staff members have the right to express their views publicly on any matter as private citizens. Statements made or letters written in this context should not include the name and address of the University (or any part of it, e.g. University Department/Faculty) or the member's University title.
(3) The use of the University's address and University title is appropriate, where a staff member wishes to make a comment, either written or oral, which relates directly to the academic discipline in which he or she holds appointment.
(4) Where doubt exists about the appropriateness of using the University title or name, the staff member should, in the first instance, discuss the matter with the Vice-Chancellor.
Suppression of dissent website
in the section on Documents
in the subsection on Australian university speech codes