Freedom of speech and academic freedom are inextricably linked with the capacity of universities to perform this special role.
The publication of the Hon Robert French AC’s Report of the Independent Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers provided the University of Sydney with an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of its own arrangements for promoting and protecting those freedoms.
A key recommendation of Mr French’s report was that all Australian higher education providers should adopt voluntarily the Model Code for the Protection of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom in Australian Higher Education Providers (“Code”) he developed as part of his review.
The French Review Model Code Implementation Group consulted with members of the University community about the Code through these representatives and via a call for written feedback from staff and students issued on 12 August 2019. The Group held five meetings between its establishment on 29 July 2019 and 18 September 2019, with its deliberations guided by the Issues Paper included at Annexure “C”.
This Report follows a similar structure to that of the Issues Paper and summarises the Group’s conclusions concerning the questions raised in the Issues Paper. The resulting ‘Resolution of Issues’ set out from page seven of this Report informed the Group’s proposed amendments to the Code and its recommendations concerning its operation at the University of Sydney. In these regards, the Group resolved to recommend that:
- The University should adopt the Code as amended by Chancellors’ Council Working Group and with the further amendments recommended by the Group in Annexure “E”, by incorporating the Code’s Principles as an attachment to the University’s Charter of Academic Freedom; and
- the Code as amended should be applied as a Statement of Principles, which informs the review and revision of the University’s non-statutory rules, codes of conduct, policies and industrial instruments, but should not be given overriding legal status.
The Group’s view that the Code should not override the University’s rules, codes of conduct, policies or industrial instruments reflected a concern it could result in uncertainty about the operation of those documents with the possible escalation rather than resolution of disputes. The Group acknowledged, however, that it would be appropriate and desirable for decisionmakers in the University to have regard to the Code’s Principles when applying or interpreting any of the codes or policies of the University, or when exercising a discretion under such a code or policy.