We are sure that many of you will have seen the recent communication from the Chair of Council regarding Prof Dickinson, which noted the establishment of an ad-hoc committee to determine whether or not he has broken the Council Code of Conduct. We find these events to be quite extraordinary and very concerning.
The issue relates to Prof Dickinson’s habit of writing reports to Academic Staff after every Council meeting (4 regular meetings per year), which should be understood as part of his duties to academic staff as their representative to Council. The reports serve to inform academic staff about discussions taking place at Council and contribute to transparency in how our institution is governed. We are sure many academic staff are deeply concerned that Prof Dickinson’s reports are now the basis of a commission of inquiry. Many academic staff find the reports informative and enlightening (if not humorous) about an aspect of University governance often little understood.
The majority of Council’s reaction to the reports is punitive and unnecessary. This is disappointing, as we would hope that the majority of Council would understand the importance, and respect the right, of the university community to know and understand what is taking place in the highest decision making body of their institution. There appears to be a serious disconnect between the values of transparency and accountability central to a publicly funded institution and Council’s activities. Prof Dickinson is the duly elected representative of academic staff to this important decision-making body and any attempts to remove him due to his reports run counter to the spirit of academic freedom and are, we believe, illegal.
It is important to note that Prof Dickinson’s reporting activities were at the outset of his tenure deemed appropriate by Council. Prof Dickinson entered into an agreement regarding how these reports would be presented early on in his term. Thus, it is disingenuous of the Chair of Council to suggest that Prof Dickinson is operating outside of the Code of Conduct. Further, Prof Dickinson had explicitly agreed not to report on any information deemed confidential and to correct any factual errors that he presents and has done so in previous reports. The actions by Council, both in establishing the commission of inquiry and in the public letter written by its Chair, can be read as fundamentally compromising academic freedom and Prof Dickinson’s freedom of expression. The actions also suggest that there is an ongoing culture of opacity and a clear unwillingness to engage with fair (and often witty) critique to the established power block in Council. It should be noted that there is only 1 academic staff representative and 4 Senate Representatives to Council, which is mainly made up of individuals from the public and private sector appointed by government.
We call on Council to end the punitive and unnecessary measures that have been taken against Prof Dickinson, and to respect his right (and by extension the rights of all academic staff) to speak his mind, report to his colleagues, and provide critical counter-perspectives to the accepted and often unchallenged perspectives of the majority of Council members.