Academics worry about free expression

Issue 

Academics worry about free expression

By Jeremy Smith

MELBOURNE — National stop-work meetings were organised on May 26 by the Federal Council of Academics, the Union of Australian College Academics, and the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations to discuss proposals for award renegotiation.

Fears abound in the academic community that changes proposed by the employers could undermine freedom of academic expression.

The main point of contention is the regulations on dismissal of academics. Contained within the award are a series of procedures which act as a check against arbitrary sacking. Proposals for dismissal must be preceded by written warnings and remedial action. An accused academic then faces a committee of investigation in which union representation is mandatory. Then the academic must front up to a committee of peers.

This process is "prohibitively time-consuming and expensive", according to Keith Sloane, the executive director of the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association. The employers have proposed a "dismissal without notice" clause which would fast-track the process and remove the avenues of redress.

Even more insidious is the introduction of "efficiency" into the clause on "unsatisfactory performance", to be retitled "Procedures for Dealing With Inefficiency". This could lead to the appointment of a monitor to supervise work performance and determine the standards of an individual's productivity.

Another cause of concern is the procedures for redundancy. This can result from financial imperatives, declining student numbers in a course, organisational or technological changes or departmental decisions to cease offering particular courses.

Less popular subjects, or ones which have difficulty attracting students because of lack of resources, are obviously the target. This would amount to employer interference in the content of some courses.

Academic unions are pessimistic about the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the academic employer body. They have threatened to begin a campaign of bans, limitations and strikes to protect the second tier negotiations that were finalised in 1988.

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