While I respect the decision of the High Court, I am concerned that employment conditions should never be allowed to have a chilling effect on free speech or academic freedom at our universities.
Freedom of speech and academic freedom are the most fundamental principles of a university.
University staff and students must have the freedom to challenge and question orthodoxies, without fear of losing their job or offending others.
This is why I have insisted that universities adopt the French Model Code to provide a clear statement about the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom. 41 Australian universities now have policies aligned with the Model Code and will report against it annually.
The High Court today endorsed the long standing core meaning of intellectual freedom quoting Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ in saying that whilst a prohibition upon disrespectful and discourteous conduct in intellectual expression might be a “convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world”, the “price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind.”
It found, in keeping with these principles, that JCU’s initial censure of Professor Ridd was not justified.
However, because of his conduct in subsequent JCU processes, the High Court found that JCU had acted lawfully in dismissing Professor Ridd.
We need a culture in our universities of accepting and welcoming open robust debate, even if some feel offended in the process. I am concerned that, in some places, there is a culture of closing down perceived “unwelcome thoughts” rather than debating them.
I will be getting further advice on the implications of the Ridd case. There are few things more important for the advancement of truth and knowledge than having open, robust debate at our universities.