Dons attack decision to sack outspoken scholar

May 11, 2001

Australian academics have called on the international community to protest against the sacking of a colleague at the University of Wollongong who claimed he was ordered to increase his students' marks.

The National Tertiary Education Union has asked for academic pressure to help reverse a decision by Wollongong's vice-chancellor, Gerard Sutton, who sacked Ted Steele for alleged serious misconduct.

The NTEU has appealed against the sacking to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and has launched proceedings against the university in the federal court. It has also set up an international online petition.

Messages of support have been received from unions in Europe, the Philippines, North America and South Africa.

Professor Steele, a biologist, was dismissed in February after claiming publicly that he had been ordered to boost the marks of his honours students.

His comments followed widespread debate in the media over earlier claims by other academics that fee-paying international students were receiving unfair treatment in their assessments.

Professor Sutton said that Professor Steele's "wilful or deliberate behaviour" had caused serious risk to the university's reputation.

He said Professor Steele had specifically denied his claims during a departmental meeting but had refused to correct the public record.

NTEU president Carolyn Allport said that by appointing himself "judge, jury and executioner", and denying Professor Steele access to agreed processes, the vice-chancellor had shown contempt for academic freedom and established a dangerous precedent "not just for staff at Wollongong but for staff everywhere".

She added that by taking such precipitate action, the university had probably caused more damage to its reputation than anything Professor Steele had said.

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