La Trobe University given until Monday to withdraw suspension and allegations against Safe Schools academic Roz Ward
3 June 2016
Andrea Petrie, Andrew MacDonald
Maurice Blackburn has written to La Trobe University Vice Chancellor John Dewar calling for Victorian Safe Schools Co-Ordinator and academic Roz Ward to be reinstated following her suspension earlier this week.
In a legal letter sent to the university, employment law expert Josh Bornstein has also encouraged the Vice Chancellor to withdraw all allegations that have been made against Ms Ward relating to a private post she published on her personal Facebook page.
Her suspension, on Wednesday, followed publicity surrounding a status update and accompanying photograph in which Ms Ward expressed an opinion about the Australian flag. The university claims the post constitutes serious misconduct. This is despite La Trobe claiming to be a champion of academic freedom.
The university’s enterprise agreement states that staff have a “right to participate in public debate about political and social issues and to express unpopular or controversial views”.
Maurice Blackburn and The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) argue that Ms Ward’s suspension contravenes the university’s enterprise agreement, the Fair Work Act and Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act. They hope the legal letter will limit further reputational damage to Ms Ward and lead to her immediate reinstatement.
Mr Bornstein described the suspension as “unlawful” and “contrary to the principles that are at the heart of academic freedom and promotion of public debate in Australia.
“Constraining Ms Ward’s right to express a political opinion because of the unreasonable and unfounded reaction of particular sections of the media, and the public to that opinion stifles public debate, gives in to fear and ignorance, Mr Bornstein’s letter states. “It is the antithesis of the principles underpinning the notions of academic freedom that La Trobe professes to value.”
Ms Ward is an NTEU member. Maurice Blackburn has been instructed to commence legal proceedings in the Federal Court if the allegations of misconduct by La Trobe and Ms Ward’s suspension are not withdrawn by 10am Monday 6 June 2016.