Insights from Quadrant

The meaning
of academic freedom

Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and constitutional law specialist Adrienne Stone (above), of Melbourne University, has penned a paper on the progress through the courts of Peter Ridd’s case against James Cook University, now heading to the High Court after the initial ruling in his favour was overturned on appeal:

The case of Ridd v James Cook University raises important questions as to the content and scope of the principle of academic freedom, and its application to public criticism of academic research and university governance. It presents a rare opportunity for the High Court of Australia to consider the legal content of the principle of academic freedom, and the outcome of the case will likely be very significant for Australian universities.

This article provides a principled foundation to suggest that James Cook University’s termination of Professor Ridd contravened critical and widely accepted aspects of the principle of academic freedom. It takes issue with the majority decision of the Full Federal Court of Australia under appeal on two bases.

First, it suggests that the majority paid insufficient regard to the principle of academic freedom, which should properly have informed the interpretation of the provisions of the relevant university enterprise agreement relating to ‘intellectual freedom’.

Second, given the requirements of the principle of academic freedom and the principle’s centrality to the purposes of a university, the particular provision that protects ‘intellectual freedom’ should have been understood, in some circumstances, to take priority over the code of conduct that Ridd was found to have breached….

Peter Ridd has never lacked strength for the fight and Professor Stone’s analysis should further bolster that determination.

An advance copy of the paper, “The Meaning of Academic Freedom: The Significance of Ridd v James Cook University“, can be read in full here.

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