University governing bodies should be required to publish a statement on their institution’s alignment with the French Model Code that protects freedom of speech and academic freedom.
The recommendation was made by lawyer and former Vice-Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) Sally Walker AM in The Review of the Adoption of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom provided to the Morrison Government today.
Minister for Education Dan Tehan said, if agreed, the statement would be made annually and published in the university’s annual report.
“We would be asking university governing bodies to ensure the alignment of university policies with the principles of the Model Code and to take governance oversight of the implementation of those policies including the steps taken to foster a culture committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom,” Mr Tehan said.
The Walker Review found:
- 33 of Australia’s 42 universities advised they had completed their implementation of the Model Code, eight advised they had not completed this work and one university, Carnegie Mellon University Australia, did not respond.
- Nine universities had policies that were fully aligned with the French Model Code, 14 universities were mostly aligned, four were partly aligned and six had policies that were not aligned.
The French Model Code sets out principles that universities can adopt to strengthen their protections for freedom of speech and academic freedom. Universities had given a voluntary commitment that, by the end of the year, they would adopt the French Model Code, adapt it or ensure that the principles of the Model Code were reflected in their policies. Professor Walker was asked to review the progress universities had made implementing the Code.
Mr Tehan said Professor Walker had delivered a thorough review.
“The French Model Code ensures freedom of speech and academic freedom are paramount values of Australian universities,” Mr Tehan said.
“All universities gave a commitment to make their policies consistent with the Code and I acknowledge the leadership demonstrated by the nine universities that are fully aligned with the Code.
“By fully adopting the French Model Code, universities can send a strong message to students, staff and the community about their values and commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom.
“As the Walker Review makes clear, universities need to support and promote a culture committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom.
“Universities have until the end of the year to honour their commitment to align their policies with the French Model Code and I strongly urge those universities that have not already done so to take action.”
Professor Walker said the universities that had adopted a single, overarching code or policy dealing with freedom of speech and academic freedom were found to be most strongly aligned with the principles of the Code.
“Universities that adopted a single, overarching code or policy have addressed academic freedom and freedom of speech in a more authoritative manner,” Professor Walker said.
“I hope that my report will provide a useful, practical basis to inform future work to support freedom of speech and academic freedom in Australian universities.
“I have recommended that the sector develop more transparent reporting arrangements and a heightened role for governing bodies, but university leaders have to provide the day to day leadership to create an environment where freedom of speech and academic freedom are understood and supported.”