Australia—Nikolic, Powell, and Price
In March 2015, Michael Powell, a lecturer at the University of Tasmania, wrote an opinion piece published in the Launceston Examiner pointing out that the budget reductions being proposed by the Liberal government would have a devastating impact on higher education across Australia. The Liberal Whip happened to be Alexander Nikolic, an ex-military officer who now represents a district in Tasmania. Known as a party “enforcer,” Nikolic attacked Powell for being a Labour party hack—largely because Powell had once run for office as a Labour candidate. But Powell’s one unsuccessful run for political office occurred when he was 30, and that was 35 years before he wrote the op-ed piece.
In any case, Nikolic’s attack on Powell’s credibility was so heavy-handed that it prompted Jenna Price, a faculty member at the University of Technology Sydney to pen a scathing rebuke. Titled “No-Clue Nikolic Lunges at Academic Freedom,” the piece begins:
“Andrew Nikolic has five university degrees, but not one of the esteemed institutions at which he studied helped him understand what academic freedom means.
“Here it is, Andrew, in plain English. Academic freedom is the right of academics to debate ideas.
“Academics don’t have to suck up to their employers. We are not being monitored on social media.
“We are not employed by the Australian Public Service, where employees are not allowed to criticise the government in their private lives. Academics have to abide by the employer’s code of conduct, but our employer doesn’t tell us how to think.
“So, never heard of Andrew Nikolic? He is the whip in the failing Abbott government. He has also been described as the new enforcer in parliament and a disciplinarian in the party room.
“He was trained in the military where it’s blind obedience. So you can imagine, can’t you, the kind of behaviour he thinks is appropriate.
“He represents the voters of Bass, an electorate in Tasmania’s north-east with high levels of unemployment and in the epicentre of structural change.
“You’d think the local member would be doing serious work to support his community. But no, too busy demanding blind obedience. . . .” (Price).
Later in the piece, Price elaborates further on the function of faculty in the broader society and the necessity of academic freedom:
“’Academics have a role–no, a responsibility–to make a significant contribution to society by drawing on their considerable knowledge and discipline expertise to support public discussion based on evidence, and on reasoned arguments.’
“In other words, one of the most important roles that universities play in society is to promote debate. It must surprise Nikolic to discover we are not all in the army.
“University lecturers are paid to think, critique and discuss, to teach, to research, to make arguments. And there is no more important time to make those critiques right now because the federal government is leading the charge to divide students and universities, the rich from the poor” (Price).
Price, Jenna. “No-Clue Nikolic Lunges at Academic Freedom.” Canberra Times 17 Mar. 2015: B, 4.
Previous Posts in the Series:
Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-1-of-a-series/.
Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/25/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-2-of-a-series/.
Post 3. Canada—University of New Brunswick: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/26/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-3-of-a-series/.
Post 4. Canada—Capilano University: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/30/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-4-of-a-series/
Post 6. Canada—Additional Items: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/08/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-6-of-a-series/.