Andrew L. Urban.
Universities going rogue on freedom of speech are on notice, in the wake of the April 17, 2019 judgement by Salvatore Vasta in favour of Professor Peter Ridd, who urged greater scrutiny of scientific reporting on the Great Barrier Reef. James Cook University stands condemned for trying to stifle him and sacking him.
As the Institute of Public Affairs (who supported him) reports:
Peter Ridd was a professor at James Cook University who dared to question claims that the Great Barrier Reef is facing imminent catastrophe from climate change. Eventually he was sacked for not backing down.
But with public support he insisted that the university undertake some quality assurance of its research, and refused to be censored, and continued to speak out.
His battle to speak for science against the Climate Inquisition reached the courts, with a three-day hearing in the Federal Court in Brisbane last month.
And Peter Ridd won on all counts.
Equally heartening is the fact that Ridd’s call for public support raised $260,000 from 2,405 people to help cover his legal costs. The public cares about freedom of speech and academic freedom.
The Court ordered:
- The 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction, the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful.
- The issue of the making of declarations and penalty are adjourned to a date to be fixed.
UPDATE – Peter Ridd releases statement:
There has been a flurry of media activity on the case but the main news is that it looks as though the Vice Chancellor (VC) is digging in. She and the Provost Prof Chris Cocklin released an extraordinary statement saying the Judge was wrong on all 17 findings against JCU (see link below). In my opinion, she had not read Judge Vasta’s judgement and clearly does not comprehend what has just happened.
But this means that unless the JCU council (the governing body) deals with the VC, an appeal is likely. In my media statements I have repeatedly stated that the JCU council will be complicit in this mess if they do not deal with the VC and Provost. Due to the huge media response in Australia, the council will have heard this loud and clear.
JCU has near infinite resources from the taxpayer and the VC will not pay a cent when she ultimately loses. It matters not to JCU if they appeal on weak grounds, and the VC may well have retired from the university in the time it could take, perhaps 5 years, if it goes all the way to the high court.
An appeal will cost the best part of a million dollars – much more if it goes to the high court. But I reckon that if we are forced, we can raise the funds. I am very confident that we can win any appeal, although we would want to look closely at whatever mischief they come up with.
The fact is that we have the upper hand – we won the first round 17-nil. The university is bleeding reputation due to its own mistakes, and there is growing anger especially in North Queensland. If they think they can intimidate us with an appeal, they should think again.