Reprinted from Campus Review, Vol. 7, No. 33, August 27-September 2, 1997, p. 1, with permission. For more information about Campus Review, see http://www.camrev.com.au.
IN A MOVE believed to be unprecedented in Australia, the University of Adelaide has persuaded the University of Wollongong to suppress part of a Wollongong academic's World Wide Web home page which it says contains inaccurate and possibly defamatory material on the case of an Adelaide professor who claims to have been victimised and forced into redundancy.
The former Waite professor of entomology, Professor Dudley Pinnock, claims he was forced to leave the university on July 25 after his position was declared redundant.
Pinnock gave an account of his case on a WWW home page established by Dr Brian Martin, a senior lecturer in the department of science and technology studies at Wollongong.
Martin often reports on cases of academic dissent and alleged victimisation.
He also heads Whistleblowers Australia, a body set up to help academics and public servants who have suffered after revealing information their institutions did not want published.
University of Wollongong executives informed Martin last week that the University of Adelaide had threatened legal action over the Pinnock material and asked him to remove the page relating to the Pinnock case from his web site.
Martin told Campus Review he had taken the page off the web but would see that it was located elsewhere, probably on a US university's web page.
David Rome, vice-principal (administration), told Martin in a letter last Wednesday that the vice-chancellor, Professor Gerald Sutton, has read the website material and accordingly drew his attention to the official rules governing use of university computer facilities.
The rules did not address material which is potentially defamatory, but the university's code of practice for e-mail stated that "an e-mail communication from the university is analogous to a letter printed on university letterhead and the university may in some cases be regarded as the publisher, even if the communication is regarded as private".
"A similar argument could be presented for any information accessible by other electronic means," Rome wrote to Martin.
"The university would not wish to be exposed to any possible legal action because of your web site."
Rome then asked Martin to remove the questionable material.
University of Adelaide vice-chancellor, Professor Mary O'Kane, confirmed to Campus Review that she had told Wollongong that "continued publication may result in legal action".
She said her university had followed the procedures set out in the academic award following Pinnock's appeal against the redundancy.
Pinnock had put his arguments to a review committee but the committee had found no grounds for appeal, she said.
Martin says victimisation is possible when staff cuts are made, and there was a risk that a person may be targeted over a "personality problem" or an alleged "personality clash."
Redundancies should only be made on the basis of an open process that involves consultation in good faith, and where criteria for decision making are well defined and agreed upon.
"I have heard about redundancies at a number of universities where individuals have been targeted without clear criteria for the decisions made."
"Professor Dudley Pinnock at the University of Adelaide ... finally lost his job this year due to redundancy in spite of outstanding research performance and bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside funding per year. His appeal, backed fully by the NTEU, was unsuccessful."
* INTER ALIA, page 11.
Suppression of dissent website
in the section on Documents
in the subsection on the Dudley Pinnock case.