Hirst v Deakin: Update 12 June

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, (JERAA) has issued the following statement. I think it relates to my case, but I’m not sure. I am a member of the Association.

Journalism academics and social media

The issue of journalism academics’ use of social media to discuss issues, institutions and individuals has attracted media attention recently.

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) supports freedom of expression and opinion that complies with limitations concerning defamation, sub judice, discrimination, incitement to violence, and similar matters.

As the professional association for journalism academics, JERAA also supports adherence to the principles espoused in the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

In cases where universities and other academic institutions need to investigate complaints about comments made by academics, we urge management to follow proper processes and complete investigations in an impartial, transparent and timely manner.

I also received the following email from a former student. S/he doesn’t want to be identified and I totally understand her/his paranoia.  In the age of Big Brother our bosses and enemies have us under constant surveillance. I have nothing to lose now because Deakin is determined to get rid of me. IMHO I’m being managed out via a process of vicious slurs on my character. I am being defamed, prosecuted, convicted and executed in a Kangaroo Court where there is no transparency to keep the bastards honest.
I will have more to say on this soon, there is more to this story than three stupid tweets.
The author of this letter to me has not contacted me for perhaps 12 years or more, but did so out of the blue when s/he heard about my case. These unsolicited opinions are worth considering, because they are pretty accurate.
Gday again Martin,
Hope you’re enjoying as good a day as is possible in the circumstances, with or without some caffeinated or alcoholic refreshments!
Here are a few thoughts on an appeal from someone who is not a lawyer! I think it entirely unreasonable that you were dismissed over comparatively trivial exclamations and even if you want to leave Deakin, I think you should have the option of resigning (with package!).
Hopefully Deakin conflated the issues so that they do not need to be addressed separately as it’s better to aim at one target than 3 or 4.
When an institution (more so than an individual) seeks to use its power to dismiss an employee (and likely permanently damage future career prospects given the ubiquity of internet news stories), I would see it as a denial of natural justice that you were not (as I understand it) told who your accuser was, the specifics of their accusation and the date of the accusation. On this point alone, it seems to me, Deakin’s procedure was not legitimate.
To my mind, this links directly to a freedom of political communication as implied in the Constitution in that any condition less than this (ie. the naming of an accuser in an exchange with a journalist during an election campaign), starts to seed a political atmosphere in which anonymous accusations can be hurled with impunity and without accountability, as occurred during the Cultural Revolution. On this, I would think that any Workplace Conditions would be voided if they were found to be not in accord with the Constitution of Australia and implied readings of it.
Were you invited to personally present a defense at a formal hearing (with legal representation) as anything less might leave an outsider (ie. the taxpayer who largely funds Deakin) with an impression that the method of investigation and deliberation was truncated, expedited, compromised, tainted, unprofessional, inept or prejudiced.
Free speech must include the vulgar (as distinct from the offensive or discriminatory) and Australian political life has a long history of such examples, even by Prime Ministers such as Keating and also Hawke and Rudd, at times too. As institutions, it is surely part of the implied role of universities to promote all aspects of free speech (including the tolerance of vulgarities) and act as a leader in democratic societies for it.
While your tweets were published, it appears that the ones referring to the Sky News were reactive (not proactive), very short, general in nature and not specifically addressed to any one person. More broadly, if the ratings figures you quote are correct, then the total audience of your tweets who may have been offended would amount to 0.0009% (Sky’s audience share of the total population) of your 2,100 followers (I note your replies were not hashtagged for a wider audience).
So, perhaps it is reasonable to say that 2-3 people of your total followers who subscribe to Sky (and were on Twitter when you tweeted) were actually offended? This is not a big audience (!) and I wonder if Deakin took this into account? Deakin is also obliged to consider your case at the date of the formal complaint only and so I would think that any reputational damage that Deakin may perceive is largely the result of their own publicity of this matter (did they release a media release?).
For me, their reputational damage has come with this decision as I, for one, now have no interest whatsoever in applying for a PhD in journalism there, if supervisors may be dismissed for such minor indiscretions and given that such action is likely to discourage potential supervisors into assisting me with a completely open heart.
[EM editorialising: an interesting point, my PhD students at Deakin were removed from my care two days after I was stood down, they were told (without consultation) that they had to accept new supervision arrangements. Both have been in touch with me (against terms of my suspension to contact them) and they are upset. Neither is happy with the new arrangements and feel they’ve been pressured into accepting unsatisfactory arrangements.]
On this, if the specifics of the allegation against you are not conveyed to you then how can you be sure anyone at all complained about an earlier tweet showing your beanie? If they did not, then have Deakin found you guilty of an offense where no formal complaint was made? I also question Deakin’s apparent inclusion of an historic incident in their deliberations for the same reason.
As for the student studying commerce, is there any way you could have known this student was enrolled at Deakin? (was this students enrollment actually confirmed in writing to you?). Do all lecturers have access to enrolment details for all students in all faculties? If not, this student could be from anywhere in the world and on twitter, given the high prevalence of false identities, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he/she may not even be a student at all.
[EM editorialising, McDougall is a Deakin student from what we can tell. I have confirmed with Deakin that he did not complain, but Deakin will not tell me who complained, how the complaint was received and how it was handled internally. It appears that the complaint was escalated to serious misconduct without any reference to me being able to address it as a ‘complaint’. The bona fides of the complainant have not been released to me.
Rita Panahi (Herald Sun calumnist) denies it was her, but then she did tweet this.]
RP perhaps I should complain
I think your reply (and not a proactive tweet) was understandable to the extent that the student was clearing questioning your professional capacities and when I first saw this tweet, I read your reply to be a droll rejoinder that the student would fail because they were intimating they had a closed mind and didn’t want to ever take on board the thoughts of someone with a PhD qualification.
It also defies reasonable belief that you were threatening the academic progress of the student as he/she stated they were from another faculty (and, on the balance of probabilities, I would presume from another university – is it in their profile, even today?) and I find it inconceivable that any person at any university (but especially someone outside the Commerce faculty) could influence colleagues or the Dean of Commerce to illegally mark down the final results of a specific student (and especially when that academic did not have any enrolment supervision over that student). While your tweet here may have been intemperate and unbecoming (on a worst interpretation), I think it a very harsh overreaction that it should form part of the reason for your dismissal. This seems especially the case as it is open to various interpretations.
OK, that’s perhaps enough of the unsolicited, unqualified ramblings but I hope they assist the thought process.

5 Responses to Hirst v Deakin: Update 12 June

  1. More intriguing reading. It was similar to when you were suspended: management refusing to tell you who complained etc.

  2. Yes Caron, same, same, complete disregard for procedural fairness, though my inquisitor-in-chief says he is ‘satisfied’ that I was accorded full procedural fairness.

  3. Mark Hayes says:

    I’d like to comment here but I’m too scared my employer might Notice, or be alerted to my Post here by an alert journalist and/or a commentator on their Blog, and somebody might anonymously complain about me making a personal comment when they have linked me with my employer (for whom I’m then construed as Speaking Officially) using a technique called Doxing (or Doxxing).

  4. No worries Dr Hayes, I’ve already complained, you should hear from the thought police sometime between 0200 and 0700 in the morning.
    They won’t knock, but the smashing, barking and acrid odour of tear gas should wake you.

  5. you're fired! says:


    BTW Socialism has killed 100 million people, Murdoch has killed none.

    Glad you got fired!

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