Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
Respected academic Associate Professor Gerd Shroeder-Turk today welcomed a decision by Murdoch University to abandon its claim against him for millions of dollars in damages after he raised concerns about the university’s admission standards for international students on the ABC’s Four Corners program. Mr Schroeder-Turk said: “I am greatly relieved by the university’s decision to withdraw the financial component of the counter-claim against me. The counter-claim by the university has caused me and my young family a great deal of unnecessary stress”. “I wish to express my gratitude to all who have supported me over the last few very trying months, including the NTEU and everyone who has gotten behind their #IStandwithGerd” campaign.” “I have always acted in the best interest of the university, its students and its staff, and have done so in very difficult circumstances. However my concerns about the welfare of students remain.” “Those who are strong enough to assert their rights have a responsibility to protect others, especially those who are dependent on them’. This is a quote from Murdoch University’s code of ethics and I attempt to live up to this expectation in everything I do.”
Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein, who represents Mr Schroeder-Turk, welcomed the decision by Murdoch University to withdraw its punitive multi-million dollar claim for damages.
“This was a ridiculous and baseless legal claim against a whistleblower by a major institution. It should never have been pursued in the first place. Murdoch University’s claim for millions of dollars in damages was an unprecedented attack on a whistleblower in this country. The University clearly intended to try and frighten my client and any other staff member wanting it speak up about maladministration,” he said.
The University’s treatment of Mr Schroeder-Turk prompted an outpouring of support for him.
Over 31,000 people signed a petition supporting Associate Professor Schroeder-Turk and he received support from academics around the world. He is also supported by National Tertiary Education Union.
WA Division Secretary Jonathan Hallett said: “Regrettably, Murdoch University is a University with a chequered past history of poor governance. In 2016, the WA Corruption and Crime
Commission found the University’s former Vice Chancellor had engaged in serious misconduct. “
Mr Bornstein added that:
“Murdoch University has an extraordinary hypersensitivity to external scrutiny, transparency and any criticism. In recent years, it has spent enormous sums in seeking to use the legal system to suppress scrutiny, transparency and criticism.
This includes Murdoch University’s November 2018 attempt to seek an urgent Supreme Court injunction to stop the publication of an article in the NTEU journal titled ‘Trouble at Murdoch’. The article referred to “a substantial influx of international students, many with poor English skills, and concerns about both the failure rate and plagiarism.”
The University’s bid to stymie debate and criticism failed with Chief Justice Quinlan dismissing the University’s case as weak and highlighting the public interest in free expression. His Honour also noted that the University’s functions include “promoting critical and free enquiry…and public debate”.
Despite withdrawing the financial claim, Murdoch University is persisting in its efforts to remove Schroder-Turk from the University Senate.
NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said, “This is an unprecedented attack on academic governance and academic freedom.”
“The Associate Professor is the academic staff member elected by his peers to be a member of the University Senate. This continued attempt to silence the academic voice sends a chill through the entire higher education system, because academics must be involved in university governance at the highest levels.”
Josh Bornstein says that this is a critical case under the Fair Work Act which will determine whether its provisions provide protection against retribution levelled at whistle-blowers within the workplace.