Victory for academic freedom as Murdoch Uni drops case against Schröder-Turk

June 15, 2020
Photo: I Stand With Gerd / Facebook

In a victory for academic freedom, Murdoch University announced on June 12 that it has permanently withdrawn all action against academic and whistleblower Associate Professor Gerd Schröder-Turk.

The dispute begun in 2018 when several departments and the Student Guild raised concerns about the university's international student recruitment practices. They related to the university's recruitment of international students, despite them failing to meet academic standards, which Schröder-Turk believed to be a questionable strategy to cover its budget black hole.

It resulted in many enrolled students who were ill-equipped academically, linguistically and financially to survive in the Australian university system.

After seeing these problems play out, Schröder-Turk lodged a complaint with the Chancellor based on his concerns for student welfare. However, when his appeals fell on deaf ears, he became a whistle-blower.

The ABC's Four Corners spoke to Schröder-Turk, along with other academics, about Murdoch University's alleged malpractices. Management then moved to remove Schröder-Turk from the University Senate, saying his actions were against the best interests of the university. His law suit against Murdoch led the university to file a counter suit, claiming that the subsequent 15% drop in international students enrolling was due, at least in part, to the expose.

Academics and professional associations across the world condemned Murdoch University's actions as an attack on academic freedom.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and students campaigned to reinstate Schröder-Turk and managed to gather more than 30,000 signatures on a petition calling for the university's lawsuit to be dropped.

At a Town Hall meeting organised the Vice-Chancellor last December 6, management refused to answer questions about the lawsuit when asked by NTEU members and supporters and abruptly ended the meeting. Their refusal to respond demonstrated management's flimsy case against him.

On January 13, Murdoch University announced it was dropping the financial aspect of its lawsuit — a partial victory for the academic and his supporters. However, until now, the threat of legal action has remained a dark cloud over his head.

The settlement of this case in full now means that Schröder-Turk can continue to sit on the University Senate and he has resumed his duty as a voice for academics.

The “IStandWithGerd” campaign, which has been long and stressful, led to this victory. Defeat would have set a precedent for university managements to silence dissenting voices, especially those that dare to question decisions affecting the university's budget.

The exact reasons behind Murdoch University's decision are unknown. There is speculation, however, that management decided during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown to reroute its resources towards cuts to staff working conditions and staff jobs. Whatever the reason, this ordeal for a university whistle-blower has demonstrated that when unions and students mobilise they can win against those who want to silence dissent.

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