12/06/2020 - 11:13

Murdoch drops whistleblower case

12/06/2020 - 11:13

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Murdoch University has withdrawn legal action against staff and senate member Gerd Schröder-Turk after the academic had reportedly criticised the university’s admission processes for international students.

Murdoch drops whistleblower case
Murdoch University has promised an independent review of its senate governance processes. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Murdoch University has withdrawn legal action against staff and senate member Gerd Schröder-Turk after the academic had reportedly criticised the university’s admission processes for international students.

According to a brief statement from the university and the National Tertiary Education Union, both entities have agreed to withdraw legal claims against each other, with chancellor Gary Smith confirming the permanent withdrawal of a motion to remove Professor Schröder-Turk from his senate position.

Murdoch University shall continue with its preparations for, and shall facilitate a comprehensive and independent review of its Senate governance processes as a part of the University Senate Review,” the statement read.

“Associate professor Schröder-Turk remains a valued member of both the Murdoch University academy and of the Murdoch University Senate.”

The legal dispute between the university and Professor Schröder-Turk relates to a report on ABC's Four Corners program in May of last year exposing concerns from the staff regarding the admission processes for international students.

An accompanying report published online went on to quote Duncan Farrow and Graeme Hocking, two of Professor Schröder-Turk’s colleagues, as well as purported emails to the university’s admission staff sent in mid-2017 concerning flexible interpretations of entry standards for international students.

Professor Schröder-Turk was quoted in that article saying he was worried academic and admissions standards had not been upheld, and that he held strong concerns about what that meant for the university’s integrity.

Murdoch University at the time declined to comment on the report and claimed its admissions standards were consistent with those set at a national level.

A legal stoush between the university and Professor Schröder-Turk ensued, with the university attempting to remove the academic from his post on the university’s senate.

Professor Schröder-Turk in turn sought an injunction to prevent the university taking disciplinary action, with the university counter-suing the academic, linking his comments to a decline in the university’s intake of international students in 2019.

The latter move was widely criticised, with academics from Murdoch and other universities signing an open letter calling the action intimidating and dangerous.

Murdoch withdrew that claim in January.

NTEU national president Alison Barnes called today's news momentous for academic freedom.

“All academics, including those elected onto our university senates, have the right to speak publicly about matters that concern Australian universities, which may include criticism of their own institution,” Dr Barnes said.

“This is fundamental to ensuring that academics are free from the threat of penalty or persecution in the pursuit of truth.

“NTEU, its members and the broader community stood with Gerd in a historic campaign to support him and academic freedom.

“Students, media, civil society and politicians all supported Gerd, as his actions symbolise how society should cherish intellectual freedom and critical thought.

“Not only that, the community clearly denounced Murdoch’s actions in attacking him for standing up for vulnerable international students.”

Professor Schröder-Turk said he was glad the court proceeding had finished, and that he would continue to contribute to broader public discussions around the governance and international student recruitment practices of Australia’s public universities.

“I hope that in a few years’ time we can look back at this case as one that has highlighted the substantial benefit of staff representation on university governing boards,” he said.

“I hope it empowers the academic and professional staff representatives on governing boards across the country, not just at Murdoch”

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