AUS asks Auckland Uni to retract dismissal threats
The Association of University Staff (AUS) has requested Auckland University to retract threats by university managers to “summarily fire” academic staff who may make negative remarks about other centres within the institution. The threats were directed at staff who had allegedly been “talking down in public other parts of the University” that were competing for the same funding. Messages including the threat of dismissal were sent to staff in the biological and biomedical fields.
AUS National President, Dr Grant Duncan, made the point that the Auckland University has an obligation to act as a “good employer”, and that any such threat of “summary dismissal” is out of line with these obligations.
“No-one can be legally dismissed on the spot just for criticising colleagues, so the university’s threat is not to be taken seriously,” said Dr Duncan.
He added, however, that the University’s actions had also generated some debate on the issue of academic freedom. “Staff and students in the University have the freedom to express competing views and to evaluate critically one another’s research and teaching. This includes the freedom to criticise the operations of the University itself, if need be.”
The recent actions of the University of Auckland were, he believes, “a symptom of the competitive, commercialised culture into which tertiary education in New Zealand has fallen. Unfortunately, the time and intellectual energy that could be going into scientific advances and inquiry is often wasted on competition for funding and for external contracts.”
“One of the apparent motives for this disciplinary message from Auckland University management is the fear of frightening off outside investors and business partners due to alleged internal backstabbing and competitiveness between senior staff.”
While Dr Duncan agreed that such behaviour, if it did occur, was “uncollegial and unbecoming of a university”, the response of Auckland University’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, was nevertheless “heavy-handed and inappropriate, to say the least”.
“The University is not like a ‘company’ of the kind in which every employee has to toe the company line. Genuine advancement and innovation in scientific research depend on freedom of thought and open debate.”
Dr Grant Duncan
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