A West Australian university that was widely criticised for trying to silence a whistleblowing academic has withdrawn all legal action and promised an independent governance review.
- Murdoch University had sought to remove Gerd Schröder-Turk from the university’s Senate, and was taking legal action against him
- Schröder-Turk and two Murdoch colleagues told Four Corners they were concerned for the welfare of international students at the university
- The university will conduct a governance review
Murdoch University had been embroiled in a legal dispute with associate professor Gerd Schröder-Turk after he raised concerns about student welfare and admission standards in a Four Corners program last year.
Immediately after the broadcast, the university sought to remove him from his position on the university’s Senate for speaking publicly about his concerns
In a statement to staff this morning, Murdoch University’s Chancellor confirmed the university had “permanently withdrawn the Senate motion to remove Associate Professor Schröder-Turk from his office as Senate member elected by and from the academic staff”.
“Associate Professor Schröder-Turk remains a valued member of both the Murdoch University academy and of the Murdoch University Senate,” the university stated.
As part of the settlement, Murdoch has also promised it will facilitate a comprehensive and independent review of its Senate governance processes.
Associate Professor Schröder-Turk said he was relieved the court proceedings were finalised.
“I look forward to continuing to contribute to the governance of Murdoch University through my membership of its Senate, and to contributing to the broader public discussion around governance and international student recruitment practices of public universities,” he said.
Associate Professor Schröder-Turk was one of three Murdoch academics who told a Four Corners investigation they were concerned for the welfare of a group of international students who were failing courses in higher than normal numbers.
After the broadcast he launched legal action seeking an injunction to stop the university taking disciplinary action against him and seeking to reinforce his right to academic freedom of expression.
Murdoch then counter-sued him for costs and damages, which they estimated could amount to several million dollars, claiming international student numbers were down and the university’s reputation had been damaged because of his comments on Four Corners.
The move to personally sue the senior maths lecturer was widely criticised by academics around the world, who saw it as a suppression of free speech.
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The university dropped the damages part of the claim after dozens of Australia’s most senior academics signed a petition describing the university’s actions as “highly intimidatory” and one visiting professor resigned in disgust calling it a “dangerous and uncollegial persecution of a principled academic colleague”.
National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes said it was “a momentous day for academic freedom”.
“All academics, including those elected onto our university senates, have the right to speak publicly about matters that concern Australian universities, which may include criticism of their own institution,” she said.
“This is fundamental to ensuring that academics are free from the threat of penalty or persecution in the pursuit of truth.
“The community clearly denounced Murdoch’s actions in attacking him for standing up for vulnerable international students.”
Murdoch University has been contacted for comment.