Charles Darwin University must stop attacks on academic freedom

12 April 2024

The National Tertiary Education Union has urged Charles Darwin University’s vice-chancellor to drop his attack on academic freedom.

Scott Bowman has asked a Senate inquiry into the controversial proposed development of the Middle Arm precinct on Darwin harbour not to publish two submissions from CDU academics.

The academics were responding to an official CDU submission supporting the project made without consulting staff or students. 

In a letter published by the inquiry, Professor Bowman asked the committee not to publish a joint submission by two academics and to redact parts of a second submission by a professor of nursing and outgoing chair of the university’s human research ethics committee that was “unfairly” critical of CDU.

NTEU NT Secretary Dr Rajeev Sharma said the vice-chancellor’s request was highly concerning.

“Trying to gag academics is an egregious attack on academic freedom and free speech and contravenes the Values and Enduring Principles of CDU,” he said.

“Academics have a right to respond to CDU’s submission which supported this project despite no consultation with the university community.

“Academic freedom is a cornerstone of all universities. The vice-chancellor’s request for censorship should alarm all staff and students.

“Thankfully senators rejected the request, but it raises serious questions about the vice-chancellor’s commitment to a core university value.”

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said academic freedom must be sacrosanct.

“This is yet another example of unaccountable vice-chancellors claiming to speak on behalf of staff and students,” she said.

“Public universities should be bastions of academic freedom, not employers that seek to gag staff from raising legitimate concerns with projects that directly affect the communities in which they live and work.

“Making submissions like this without consultation is the product of a broken governance system that gives vice-chancellors far too much power.”

Media contacts: 
Matt Coughlan 0400 561 480 / [email protected]

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