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Academic freedom and the price of silence: university professor in hot water over climate change comments

Peter Ridd, Professor of Physics at James Cook University, has brought proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court against the University, challenging a ‘Final Censure’ recently issued to him.

Professor Ridd received the censure following a series of public comments questioning the quality and integrity of the science behind significant government expenditure decisions. Professor Ridd expressed concern, both on Sky News and in an interview with The Australian, about what he considers to be an erroneous decision by the Australian Government to spend more than $1 billion on the Great Barrier Reef in the next few years, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change on the reef.

The University claimed that Professor Ridd’s comments denigrated the University’s reputation and directed Professor Ridd to cease making similar comments in the future. The University’s decision to issue the censure was apparently made on the basis that his comments were not made in a ‘collegial’ manner.

Professor Ridd has brought proceedings against the University, asserting that his decision to do so was driven by his ‘instinct for truth and honesty’ and his right to academic freedom.

This case demonstrates the inherent tension between an academic’s right to academic freedom, and freedom of speech more broadly as Professor Ridd asserts, and a university’s requirement that academics, and other employees, not bring the institution’s reputation into disrepute.

Professor Ridd is being supported in his legal fight by the Institute of Public Affairs and raised almost $100,000 through a gofundme drive to challenge the Final Censure imposed on him. With this, the stage is set for a significant stoush.

What are your views on this issue? Has James Cook University gone too far? Was the Final Censure reasonable? Or does academic freedom prevail?

We look forward to your comments and will keep you updated as the case progresses.

Authors:   
Michael Nicolazzo
Senior Associate
61 3 9258 3306
michael.nicolazzo@maddocks.com.au
Claire Francis
Lawyer
61 3 9258 3568
claire.francis@maddocks.com.au

 

Peter Ridd, Professor of Physics at James Cook University, has brought proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court against the University, challenging a ‘Final Censure’ recently issued to him.

Professor Ridd received the censure following a series of public comments questioning the quality and integrity of the science behind significant government expenditure decisions. Professor Ridd expressed concern, both on Sky News and in an interview with The Australian, about what he considers to be an erroneous decision by the Australian Government to spend more than $1 billion on the Great Barrier Reef in the next few years, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change on the reef.

The University claimed that Professor Ridd’s comments denigrated the University’s reputation and directed Professor Ridd to cease making similar comments in the future. The University’s decision to issue the censure was apparently made on the basis that his comments were not made in a ‘collegial’ manner.

Professor Ridd has brought proceedings against the University, asserting that his decision to do so was driven by his ‘instinct for truth and honesty’ and his right to academic freedom.

This case demonstrates the inherent tension between an academic’s right to academic freedom, and freedom of speech more broadly as Professor Ridd asserts, and a university’s requirement that academics, and other employees, not bring the institution’s reputation into disrepute.

Professor Ridd is being supported in his legal fight by the Institute of Public Affairs and raised almost $100,000 through a gofundme drive to challenge the Final Censure imposed on him. With this, the stage is set for a significant stoush.

What are your views on this issue? Has James Cook University gone too far? Was the Final Censure reasonable? Or does academic freedom prevail?

We look forward to your comments and will keep you updated as the case progresses.

Authors:   
Michael Nicolazzo
Senior Associate
61 3 9258 3306
michael.nicolazzo@maddocks.com.au
Claire Francis
Lawyer
61 3 9258 3568
claire.francis@maddocks.com.au