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NTEU appeals Tim Anderson Federal Court ruling

The NTEU signal a commitment to protecting academic freedom by appealing the Anderson case.

On Monday, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) lodged an appeal against the Federal Court’s November decision to uphold the University of Sydney’s sacking of former Political Economy lecturer, Dr Tim Anderson.

Anderson’s twenty year academic tenure was marred by controversies often driven by his controversial political stances. In 1990, Anderson was convicted for planning the Hilton Hotel Bombing in Sydney, but was acquitted and released in 1991. The former lecturer has also received criticism for his open support of the Assad regime in Syria, and became the subject of a University inquiry following a 2018 trip to North Korea with former colleague Jay Tharappel. Anderson was fired in 2019 following the presentation of a lecture slide containing an “altered image of the Israeli flag” that featured a “cropped swastika”. 

The slide in question. Source: The court's judgement.
The slide in question. Source: The court’s judgement.

Late last year, the Federal Court dismissed Anderson’s appeal on the grounds that such iconography was “deliberately provocative” and not in line with what should be considered a “genuine exercise of intellectual freedom.”

NTEU NSW Secretary Michael Thompson said the most recent appeal is grounded in the Union’s commitment to the protection of academic and intellectual freedom. This position echoes the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Personnel, cited by the NTEU, which maintains that “academic freedom lies at the heart of higher education and provides the strongest guarantee of the accuracy and objectivity of scholarship and research.”

Thompson further said that, although the union may not necessarily agree with the views of some academics, it is important to defend the right for academics to express controversial and challenging positions. This justification was also used in the NTEU’s defence of James Cook University’s Peter Ridd, whose academic employment was terminated following his questioning of colleagues’ scientific research about the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.

In conversation with Honi, Anderson posed questions about foreign interference in University decision making. Anderson alleged to Honi that “the Israel lobby, acting through the tabloid media, pressured University of Sydney managers to expel me from my academic position in 2018-2019.”  

A spokesperson from the University of Sydney said “Our decision to terminate Dr Anderson’s employment related solely to his serious misconduct, that was contrary to our behavioural expectations and requirements for all staff, and a breach of his obligations under the Code of Conduct”. The University of Sydney spokesperson reinforced the institution’s confidence that the decision of Judge Thawley will be upheld by the full court.

“We strongly defend freedom of speech and the ability of our staff to express their expert opinion as outlined in our Charter of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom. However, staff must also meet their obligations to engage in respectful debate in line with our policies and codes of conduct, and in accordance with the law,” the spokesperson said.

The article ‘NTEU appeals Tim Anderson Federal Court ruling’, originally published on January 21 2021, asserted that the Fund for Jewish Higher Education (FJHE), an Australian charity registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, is “a sub-branch of the Israeli World Zionist Organisation”. This statement was  false. Accordingly, the article was amended online on January 25 by deleting the references to the FJHE. The FJHE has no association with the Israeli World Zionist Organisation. It provides funding to support language programs in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies and teacher training in the School of Languages and Cultures. Honi unreservedly apologises to everyone associated with the FJHE, and to Jewish students and the Jewish community.