Learning lessons from academic disputes

Dear colleagues,

Will the dismissal of Ted Steele become one of the most well known academic disputes in Australian history? Time will tell. In any case, it can be useful to study some other cases in order to gain insights. Here are a few of national or local prominence with which I'm familiar and for which considerable documentation is available.


* Professor Sydney Orr, dismissed from the University of Tasmania in 1956. See W. H. C. Eddy, Orr (Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1961); John Polya and Robert Solomon, Dreyfus in Australia (Australia: The authors, 1996); Cassandra Pybus, Gross Moral Turpitude: The Orr Case Reconsidered (Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1993).

* Professor Clyde Manwell, attempted dismissal from the University of Adelaide beginning in 1971. See Brian Martin et al. (eds.), Intellectual Suppression: Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1986), pp. 87-122.

* Dr Jeremy Evans, attempted tenure denial at the Australian National University beginning in 1979. See Brian Martin, Suppression Stories (Wollongong: Fund for Intellectual Dissent, 1997), chapter 1.

* Dr Michael Spautz, dismissed from the University of Newcastle in 1980. See Brian Martin, "Disruption and due process: the dismissal of Dr. Spautz from the University of Newcastle", Vestes, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1983, pp. 3-9; "Plagiarism and responsibility", Journal of Tertiary Educational Administration, Vol. 6, No. 2, October 1984, pp. 183-190.

* Dr David Rindos, denied tenure at the University of Western Australia in 1993. See http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~hjarvis/rindos.html.


Here are a few of the many points that arise from these cases.

* Some (but not all) of the individuals concerned were "difficult personalities". Of course, a great many who gain tenure and are not dismissed also fit this category. It is a constant risk to reduce the issues to matters of personality. I know from experience that it is much easier to get a grip on the issues of principle involved if one is at a distance from the personality dynamics.

* Procedural issues played a major role in the disputes.

* The cases lasted many years and had a large impact on many people, in terms of both emotion and time involved.

* Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decisions made, the cases had a damaging effect on the institutions involved, both internally and externally.


Can we expect that university administrators will study these and other academic disputes so they can avoid the mistakes of the past?

Brian Martin
5 March 2001

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