"There are two big issues in this dispute: the right of academics to free speech and the question of QUT [Queensland University of Technology] conducting unethical research", left-wing academic Dr Gary MacLennan told Green Left Weekly on May 24.
MacLennan was discussing the QUT's move to charge him and fellow staff member Dr John Hookham with "straight misconduct" over their criticism of a PhD research project entitled "Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains".
In an article in the April 11 Australian, MacLennan and Hookham questioned QUT's decision to confirm a PhD film project that made fun of two intellectually disabled young men. "These young men were placed in situations where their disabilities made them appear inept", MacLennan told GLW. "This made them subject to laughter at the PhD confirmation and at a subsequent showing at a lecture.
"QUT is a university in crisis", he added. "In addition to our case, there is the plan to close down the humanities department. QUT is trying to shut down all centres of critical thinking; it is a slavish worship of market values over academic principles."
MacLennan described an "atmosphere of fear and intimidation facing staff at QUT. What is the message to other academics? Speak up and you'll be smacked down like us."
A May 15 rally organised by the Save Gary and John Collective at Kelvin Grove campus drew hundreds of students. Further protests will take place at the disciplinary hearings for MacLennan and Hookham on May 28 and 29. The two face possible dismissal or suspension without pay.