Australia’s tertiary education union had dropped legal action against the University of Wollongong (UOW) after the university’s council approved the controversial Ramsay Centre Western Civilisation Degree in June.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), which commenced legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW against UOW and its Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings for fast-tracking the Ramsay degree, said the council’s decision to approve the degree took “the utility out of litigation” and “shielded” the vice chancellor from scrutiny.
“It looks a lot like the university has taken this action because they know we were right and there was a real case to answer in court,” NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes said on Friday.
“We initiated the court action against the university because it didn’t follow its normal procedures when it fast-tracked approval for the new course.
“The university bypassed its normal academic governance processes, which play a vital role in quality control and are fundamental to ensuring academic integrity and quality, and the council has done that again by making this decision.
“We condemn the council’s decision because it disregards the overwhelming majority views of its academic staff and the broader university community.
“Just because the council’s decision is legal doesn’t make it the right decision. The council decision underscores the lengths to which university managements have gone to erode the centrality of academic governance within universities.”
UOW has welcomed the union’s decision, arguing that “fast track” approval is a “well-established process”. Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings also said the NTEU’s decision “vindicates” the university’s position.
“The Fast Track Approval Process has been used regularly by successive UOW vice-chancellors for more than two decades, including for approving whole courses. It is a well-established process,” he said.
“The university has maintained this position since January in the face of public criticism and legal challenge.
“In announcing the university council’s independent approval decision the chancellor stated the university’s willingness to continue defending this use of delegated authority, but hoped that would not be necessary.
“I welcome the NTEU’s decision not to expend further valuable member funds on this challenge. The university can now continue to make rapid progress establishing this new degree.”
The university council used its legislative authority to create “certainty” after the NTEU threatened legal action following the course being approved in January via fast-track approval.
Wellings said he is satisfied with the quality of the Western Civilisation degree and proud to be offering it in a newly-built Liberal Arts School. He also shares the call for unity made by UOW Chancellor Jillian Broadbent.
“The whole university community needs to now unite in a shared commitment to our legislative objectives of encouraging ‘the dissemination, advancement, development and application of knowledge informed by free inquiry’ and ‘the provision of courses of study … across a range of fields’,” Wellings said.Do you have an idea for a story?
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