08 January 2014

Uni defends audience with Assad as "an exercise in academic freedom"

From The Australian, January 09, 2014, by Christian Kerr:

The University of Sydney has defended as an exercise in academic freedom the visit of senior lecturer Tim Anderson to Syria as part of a delegation that met dictator Bashar al-Assad.

But the comments have not satisfied Education Minister Christopher Pyne or a group of federal MPs who wrote to the university earlier this week expressing concerns that the visit, exploited by Syrian state media, will damage the standing of the university.

... there is concern among the university’s top governing body, the senate, that Dr Anderson’s visit will compound concerns caused by the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics by its Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

"The most important university value in this context is academic freedom and it is this value that the university must defend if Australia is to sustain an international reputation as a robust and open democracy," acting vice chancellor Stephen Garton wrote in a reply to Bass Liberal Andrew Nikolic. the MP who co-ordinated the letter...

Mr Pyne questioned the response from Professor Garton.
"Academic freedom should be a watchword for universities but the question Sydney University needs to answer is: are they elevating academic freedom ahead of the academic standing of the university?" ...
Mr Nikolic, who served as a UN military observer in Syria, South Lebanon and Israel in the early 1990s and through the first Gulf War, warned that Dr Anderson’s actions were in direct conflict with UN resolutions and Australian diplomacy.
"I believe Sydney University must consider if Dr Anderson’s actions are consistent with their code of conduct, which encompasses not only professional but also personal behaviour..."
"To date they have not adequately addressed this issue."
Mr Nikolic, who was a brigadier in the army, said he had asked Professor Garton to clarify the issue. But Mr Nikolic said he had noted the acting vice-chancellor’s comments that 
"many Australians, including many academics at the University of Sydney, would consider (Dr) Anderson’s views misguided, even repugnant".