Hirst v Deakin Update 19 June: Corrections & Clarifications

A busy few days for me ahead of deadline day Wednesday 23 June.

In the next couple of days I will be deciding whether or not to take my case to the Discipline Review Committee (DRC). The DRC is the final internal review process before my sacking for serious misconduct takes effect.

If I choose to appeal the termination will be delayed until the work of the DRC is completed. I will be making an announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime, if you are not familiar with my case, please read the previous posts which are all linked from here. In a nutshell (to make sense of what follows), Deakin University is attempting to sack me for three tweets that it alleges were insulting, threatening and/or offensive.

there’s also some new commentary here from legal blogger, Kate Gallow. (Tx Kate)

Muttonflap also had a few choice words about the Roz Ward case, I rather liked the tone of this post, though republishing it here will no doubt cause coniptions back at HQ.

La Trobe University hit rock bottom last week, suspending academic Roz Ward for deviating from the vapid political fuckspeak that now passes for public discourse in this country. Ward raised the ire of the burghers of Toorak with a passing joke about a Marxist Australian flag. Ever concerned with the opinions of right wing voters, La Trobe suspended Ward immediately and suggested she atone for her un-Australian behaviour by placing some children in a concentration camp or beating a man almost to death with an iron bar.

Let’s be clear….

Academics have the right to say what they like in the private domain, and should be able to speak their minds in the public, even if it makes Murray and Genevieve choke on their All Bran. As a nation we are being herded into an echo-chamber of venal, neutered political speech where public utterances are little more than a duplicate of the Lifestyle section of The Age.

Thanks Mutton Flap, I like your style.

Why have I gone public?

I have taken this issue public because in 2014 when Deakin tried to do the same thing to me (sack me for indiscrete tweeting) in secret, they nearly succeeded.

I believe I have done nothing wrong, so I won’t let them accuse, convict and execute me in the dark.

To that effect I am also crowd-sourcing my defence. I am asking people on Twitter etc, how they react to and/or use the word “fuck” on social media. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive. If you want to make a contribution, I am @ethicalmartini. you can see the results of this little social experiment by following the LIKES on my Twitter profile page.

I have also been using this blog to document the media coverage of my case for both practical and historical reasons. This ‘post-sacking’ tweeting and blogging is part of my defence strategy (more on that soon), but also I think there is a great deal of public interest in this case as it raises some significant issues of academic freedom and responsibility, the role of free speech on campus (and the limits imposed) and just how far into one’s personal life can an employer intrude.

In the case of the Deakin Code of Conduct it applies to all staff, students and visitors (called associates) to the campus and it appears to apply 24/7.

So theoretically, even if you’ve had nothing to do with Deakin previously, if you end up (like I might) with a ‘conviction’ for swearing on Twitter, you could end up banned from the campus (or contact with Deakin staff and students) under the Code of Conduct.

Ouch, far-reaching clauses and career-ending consequences.

j. ensure their private actions (including media communications and communications in social media) and participation in non-University activities comply with this Code of Conduct, uphold the reputation of the University and do not compromise their ability to fulfil their duties as a staff member or associate of the University.

However, as  I have previously mentioned, there is one law for the low and another for the high.

On the record

I’ve mentioned some of the media interest in my case, and I’ve been giving one or two comments to the media along the way. A couple of days ago I was approached by a journalist I know and respect, Austin Mackell, and agreed to record an interview with him.

Forty-six minutes later this is what we ended up with. I’m sorry about the pics and sound being out of sync. If someone with better tech skills than me can fix it I’d be grateful.

This is a fairly sympathetic interview and I put on the record my defence and some contextual material.

However, this piece about so-called “scholarly scandals” on Radio National’s Law Report was not so sympathetic. Here’s an exchange in which the guest, Professor Ian Freckelton tells host Damien Carrick that my tweet to Mr McDougall had “sinister overtones too it”.

Ian Freckelton: I think there is a difficult issue in relation to Professor Hirst because the exchange with the student did have sinister overtones to it…

Damien Carrick: Could or did?

Ian Freckelton: They had sinister connotations, shall we say, in that a reasonable person might draw an inference that there was a threat by Professor Hirst. The other ones fall into a different category in that they were offensive and obnoxious and arguably unbecoming of a professional employed by university. And similar ones had got the same man into trouble in 2014. So, as often happens, there was a background to all of this, and probably a cumulative position on the part of the university that this was a man who was not behaving in a way which was consonant with his professorial position.

As Damien and Ian agreed, there is potentially a long way  to go in my case, so let’s not try and resolve all the issues here, but this comment from Ian Freckelton is also interesting.

And one of the realities of modern life, Damien, I suspect is that this notional differentiation between what is public and what is private just doesn’t hold good, and tweets and Facebook entries and even emails have a problematic facility for getting out into the public domain and causing enormous distress and offense to people.

Damien Carrick: And it’s about whether we want to have public money supporting people with these sorts of views in our premier institutions, is that the issue?

Ian Freckelton: That’s part of it, and there is a reciprocal issue, isn’t there, in terms of how far we are going to go to exercise censorship over people whose views we disagree with and from which we are offended. These are very tough balancing issues, because if we go too far in either direction we either allow offense gratuitously, which can cause distress and very adverse responses of a variety of kinds, or we clamp down to a major way on things which otherwise might just disappear into cyberspace and not be dwelt upon very long by many people, and which, if you like, condemn the person from their own mouths.

It’s all very interesting and no doubt I and others will have more to say on these issues shortly.

But, for the record, who is Ian Freckelton QC?

Here’s how he was introduced on the Law Report by Damien Carrick

Damien Carrick: Barrister Ian Freckelton QC is a professorial fellow in law and psychiatry at the University of Melbourne. He is also the author of Scholarly Misconduct, which was recently published by Oxford University Press.

So, I have no problem with that, Professor Freckelton is obviously qualified to speak on my case and to offer his learned opinions to Damien and Law Report listeners.

However, it might have been useful if Damien had also included in his introduction of Professor Freckelton that he is also acting for Deakin University in another matter in which a former Deakin employee is pursuing his dismissal (adverse action) in the Victorian Supreme Court. My understanding is that this case may also revolve around Code of Conduct issues.

Yes, despite the reams and reams of material in the Code of Conduct about conflict of interest, it is just casually brushed aside when it suits.

freckelton

I don’t know the full details of this story, but the background is all here.

As I understand it, the next chapter in this ongoing saga will be dealt with in the Victorian Supreme Court on 18 July.

There has been some media coverage too if you want to get our head around it without the legal mumbo jumbo. This has apparently been going on for some time, I was vaguely aware of it, but having to prepare my own case means I’m now looking a lot more closely at this and other matters.

In May last year this story appeared in The Australian, here’s the lead:

There are concerns about an unhealthy workplace culture at Deakin University with revelations a former senior academic, who is suing the university alleging racism, may have himself been responsible for bullying faculty members.

A complaint against Hisham Elkadi, the former chair of Deakin’s academic board and head of the school of architecture, alleges he bullied a member of staff, who suffered from acute depression, over workload. A dispute about the hours of teaching broke down into a series of arguments involving missed meetings and the alleged release of confidential information to the entire faculty.

The Elkadi case was settled confidentially in July 2015, but aspects were written up in The Australian

Deakin University has reached a confidential settlement with its former academic board chair, who had alleged he was discriminated against because of his accent and skin colour while seeking promotion to a senior academic post.

Hisham Elkadi, the former head of the School of Architecture, had alleged he was denied promotion based on his “race, colour and national extraction” in a Federal Court action that specifically pointed the finger at vice-chancellor Jane den Hollander for discrimination in social and professional interactions.

It is not clear why Deakin decided to settle the case rather than defend itself against the allegations. The university was countersuing Professor Elkadi, who is now head of architecture at Salford University in Britain, accusing him of having left with a laptop, iPad, a mobile phone and a Nikon camera. A Deakin spokeswoman said the matter had been resolved on “mutually agreed terms”.

“Professor Elkadi has retracted his allegations of race discrimination against the vice-chancellor and Deakin University,” she said.

It is my understanding that the Elkadie matter has some connection to the Mark Weber case, incudentally, Mark’s profile page is still up, listing him as a Deakin staff member.

Weber

I have only just started to hear more about this case, if you know any more and want to share it with me, please get in touch. I work under the journalists’ code of ethics and do not disclose my sources. I am very good at protecting whistleblowers too.

So if you now more about that, or this, get in touch.

IKE

I’m sure someone also knows a lot more about this case, which has fascinated me for sometime, but about which I know nothing beyond the rather disturbing media reports.

Senior academic staff at Deakin University are alleged to have orchestrated a campaign to remove a prominent indigenous academic that involved enlisting students, including one who was left so traumatised by the experience that she required psychiatric help.

The fallout from the removal of Wendy Brabham, the head of Deakin’s Institute of Koorie Education, created an atmosphere of infighting and dysfunction, characterised in one university-commissioned report as “hostile” and “unsafe”.

Reports, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, list staff grievances about a “hostile/unsafe working environment”, “intimidatory behaviour” and “bullying” at the institute which provides community-based learning for indigenous students.

A significant portion of indigenous staff have since departed the university.

Professor Brabham had led indigenous education at Deakin since 1991. She was suspended in 2013 and later dismissed.

Do you see a pattern emerging here, or am I paranoid?

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to Hirst v Deakin Update 19 June: Corrections & Clarifications

  1. I see a pattern emerging in workplaces everywhere, trying to control their staff members’ private as well as professional lives. This must be fought against vigorously. It is part of the ‘HR and Marketing Take Over the World’ plot. And how an organisation can specify what visitors do in their own lives is completely beyond me.
    [EM: Yes, it is very interesting]

  2. I wish you all the best, it seems the era of free speech is shuddering to a standstill.

  3. […] caused ripples of concern in the twittersphere and in the academy. Since the story first broke, Hirst has been sacked pending a decision to appeal. His employer’s position is that Hirst has breached the […]

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