Science in Society Archive

Sacked Scientists Treated 'Worse than Murderer' Says Federal Court Judge

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho calls on our governments and learned societies to take a firm stand against the persecution of independent scientists and the suppression of dissent.

Dr. Ted Steele, senior academic and researcher in Wollongong University, well known for pioneering work in immunogenetics, was dismissed without warning and without pay a year ago. Unprecedented support to reinstate him came from all over the world. Academic unions and individuals sent thousands of letters and e-mails. The court ruled in his favour, but the University vice-Chancellor abused his power to appeal against the ruling. The article from Sydney Morning Herald, reproduced below describes the reaction of the Federal Court Judge, who was shocked by the University's behaviour, but admits it is "legion" in universities in general.

Ted Steele's case should indeed be seen in a much wider context of the reign of terror that has been visited on independent scientists by the scientific establishment and academic institutions acting on behalf of corporate business. Following Arpad Pusztai and Susan Bardocz, at least two other scientists, Elaine Ingham and Ignacio Chapela are currently being attacked for scientific findings against GM crops, and there have been calls for dismissal.

We can no longer tolerate this descent into barbarism. We call on our governments and learned societies such as the National Academy of Sciences and The UK Royal Society to take a firm stand against the persecution of independent scientists and the suppression of dissent.

AXED ACADEMIC TREATED 'WORSE THAN MURDERER'

Axed academic treated 'worse than murderer'
Sacked Steele ... judge is shocked.


By Aban Contractor, Higher Education Writer , Sydney Morning Herald,
Thursday 27 February, 2002, p.3
http://www.smh.com.au/news/0202/28/national/national27.html

The University of Wollongong gave an academic less natural justice than a murderer could expect when it sacked him without warning a year ago, a Federal Court judge said yesterday. Justice Murray Wilcox, presiding at a full bench hearing of an appeal by the university against a judgement that it had erred when it sacked Dr Ted Steele, said he was shocked by the university's behaviour.

"I find it remarkable that a university, of all institutions, of all employers, an institution that we've been brought up to regard as open and liberal and fair, should seek to exercise the power to sack somebody for discipline reasons without giving notification to them - I find [it] extraordinary, I have to say.

"Look, even murderers are entitled to be heard in their defence. The suggestion that an academic, whatever his or her offence, is not allowed to make a defence - for a university to put that proposition, I repeat, I just find it a shocking proposition."

Dr Steele, a senior biologist who had been at the University of Wollongong for 16 years, was sacked by the vice-chancellor, Professor Gerard Sutton, after telling the Herald at the height of last year's furore over soft marking that he had been told to upgrade student marks.

Another appeal judge, Justice Richard Conti, said the kind of allegations made by Dr Steele appeared to be "legion" as a result of the funding difficulties faced by universities in recent years.

"I read the newspapers and I hear from friends in university - those sorts of complaints are legion. I don't know [what the] big deal is."

Counsel for the university, Geoffrey Flick, SC, told the court that the university regarded the case as important because it wanted to know if it had the power to sack an employee without notice. "As we would have it, it would be exceptional to deny an employer that power."

But Justice Wilcox said it would be a very exceptional employer that could lay claim to such a power. "And for that to be claimed by a university, it shocks me a little."

A spokesman for the university said outside the court that the judges' comments were made without access to the full facts of the case.

"The university firmly rejects any suggestion that Dr Steele was denied an opportunity to have his say," he said. "Dr Steele was given a number of opportunities to substantiate his claims and was unable to do so."

The president of the National Tertiary Education Union, Carolyn Allport, said Dr Steele had been without work and pay for a year.

"We remain confident that the full Federal Court will confirm Justice Branson's earlier decision and that we will soon see Dr Steele reinstated," she said.

"We believe that this will send an important message to all university managers that allegations against staff must be tested before dismissal is considered."

The court reserved its judgement and is expected to rule within weeks.

Article first published 28/2/02


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