International student whistleblower gets global support

Earlier this month we reported how one of the whistle-blowers in the Four Corner’s “Cash Cow” report into Australia’s international student trade – Dr Gerd Schroeder-Turk – was being sued by Murdoch University for causing a drop in international student enrolments.

This provoked a strong backlash from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), which launched an online petition named #IStandWithGerd.

Thankfully, Dr Schroeder-Turk has also received strong support from academics across the globe:

The university’s actions have prompted withering criticism from a group of 23 academics in Australia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland and the United States.

In a joint statement to the Guardian, the academics said the legal action was clearly designed to keep Schröder-Turk and other whistleblowers silent.

“We are appalled by the continued harassment of Schroeder-Turk,” the group said. “The legal suit against him is designed to intimidate him, and future whistleblowers into silence.

“This is extraordinary behaviour from senior ranks of an institution dedicated to higher learning”…

The group of academics previously wrote to Murdoch University’s vice-chancellor, Eeva Leinonen, in May, expressing concern about the response to the allegations, particularly suggestions that the Four Corners program had racial overtones.

“We are appalled by your labelling of such criticism as ‘racist’, which deters from the substance of the debate and comes across as a personal attack,” they wrote.

“Schroeder-Turk and his colleagues are trying to protect the international students from exploitation while ensuring the long term reputation of Murdoch University is maintained. We can only conclude that your response is designed to silence concerns for international students’ welfare, as well as those of domestic students and academic staff”. Their letter received no response…

“We consider the attacks on Schroeder-Turk and his colleagues a dangerous precedent. It must be challenged, in order to maintain the ideal of a university as a forum for open debate and fearless exposure of dubious practices within academic institutions in Australia.”

Fifty-seven of Australia’s top academics have also written a letter calling for the law suit to be dropped:

An open letter published today from 57 professors to Murdoch University vice-chancellor Professor Eeva Leinonen stated they believe the court action sets a “dangerous precedent for all Australian universities”.

The signatories are all recipients of the prestigious Australian Research Council’s Laureate Fellowship, and come from 15 universities across the sector in disciplines including arts, humanities, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Quotes from the letter:

“It is a long-established principle of academic freedom that academics must be able to criticise university governance. This right is especially important where aspects of university governance might compromise the integrity of teaching and research.”

“The claim for damages is highly intimidatory to all Australian academics and therefore risks the capacity of Murdoch University and all Australian universities to pursue excellence in research and teaching.”

“We urge you to withdraw the claim, to settle any dispute without punitive measures, and to affirm the commitment of Murdoch University to academic freedom as an essential university value”…

One of the letter’s signatories, distinguished Professor Michael Bird from James Cook University, told the ABC that academics have been disturbed by the case against Dr Schroder-Turk.

“It appears to be more intimidatory than anything else. I’m a humble scientist. I don’t ordinarily feel I should be doing this sort of thing, this was an exceptional case and and we felt that it required an exceptional response,” he said.

Professor Bird said the group of academics don’t know Dr Schroder-Turk personally but felt compelled to act after reading about the case.

“I do not understand how a university could think this was an appropriate action to take,” he said.

Even The Australian has rallied behind Dr Schroeder-Turk:

In 1997 the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation published its Recom­mendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel.

It included the follow­ing statement: “All higher education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement.

“They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights.”

But more and more frequently Australian universities seemingly are thumbing their noses at the notion university workers are, by right, free to consider and develop controversial ideas in the search for truth…

Murdoch University has, of course, overreached. The wave of support for Schroeder-Turk will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on its reputation.

The university would be better served by reviewing the practices Schroeder-Turk complained of and immediately withdrawing its legal action against him.

New Murdoch Chancellor, Gary Smith, only took up his role on 8 August 2019. Hopefully, he will do the right thing and persuade Murdoch University’s top brass to drop the legal action against Dr Schroeder-Turk.

Because if Murdoch pursues the case and wins, it will discourage other academics from blowing the whistle on Australia’s international student scandal.

Unconventional Economist
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Comments

    • Ah, you’ve noticed.

      The technical term for it is the: Fill your boots and head for the hills blow-off phase

      No joke. People sense we are entering some or other grand ‘denouement’ and are brazenly helping themselves before the opportunity to ‘get theirs’ disappears for good.

  1. I can’t see how this doesn’t end with a clean out of the senior executives. Their mismanagement of this has caused so much damage and galvanized so many that even an apology at this point probably won’t cut through public opinion piling up on them. Then with the broader issues of whistleblowers being in the news, it is not going away for Murdoch execs. Wouldn’t want to be their new Chancellor at the moment.

    • If you really care about it, let the uni execs know what you think:
      Prof Eeva Leinonen, Vice Chancellor Murdoch University e-mail: E.Leinonen _at_ murdoch.edu.au

      Gary Smith, Chancellor Murdoch University email Gary.smith _at_ murdoch.edu.au

  2. – It shows that it is all about the money and NOT about the quality of the university education. #SAD

  3. “This is extraordinary behaviour from senior ranks of an institution dedicated to higher learning”…

    …and within this statement is a big clue, for Eeva Leinonen is dedicated to something altogether different.

    Eeva Leinonen’s massive salary has incentivised her to be a corporatist and to promote commercial behaviours starkly out of step with university ethics and academic life. This is the very reason for massive salary packages; it is there to ensure that the “academics” who take these jobs on are not influenced by old-hat ideas such as academic integrity, free speech and a contest of ideas. Large payments ensure that sell-outs like Eeva Leinonen do the bidding of the neoliberal masters in Canberra who are cutting off public funding in an ideological race to the netherworld of neoliberal stupidity with a surplus. As they cut, she’ll rake in the cash for the institution even if it requires shaming herself and betraying ideas she once pretended to uphold. She’ll hand out degrees to any warm blooded mammal as long as they can find a way to fill her institution’s coffers.

    It could not be clearer.

    The university executive’s ‘snout in the trough’ orgy of cash has to end. Our universities are starting to behave very much like our financial institutions and that has been the intention of both ALP and LNP governments since the so-called Dawkin’s Reforms. It has now hit ‘peak hubris’ with Eeva Leinonen taking an academic to court for telling the truth!

    Look where we are. In Victoria we have Police Commissioners perverting the course of justice, but still in the job. There we have a Premier looking for ways to sell our soul faster to China. In Canberra we have a God-bothering PM who talks in tongues and ignores members of the House of Reps with conflicted national interests. Of the one institution that is meant to protect knowledge and free speech (universities) we have VCs suing an academic.

    Australia has jumped the shark.

    • Kenneth Arrow’s works on health care covers the academic as well, not to mention the book Science Mart – Philip Mirowski, second your comment.

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      Good lament Clive.
      It’s a pity we don’t see people “going postal” on these Knights of global Plutocracy.
      Its what they deserve.

    • Spot on! Australian universities are now being run like corrupt African or Central American dictatorships. The assumption is made that academics will mostly keep their mouths shut because they will be fearful of losing their jobs. Travel funding, student stipends and other matters which used to be handled automatically now require signoff from micromanagers, thus providing further opportunities for coercion. Occasionally, this system of institutionally imposed groupthink fails, at which point a Rogue One situation develops.

    • I agree completely but I suspect we also need to dig a little deeper and understand the purpose of University educating over 50% of our own kids.
      The universities are being forced to find “inventive” ways to fund our social experiment, because direct government funding is definitely not keeping pace with the ever increasing percentage of Aussie kids heading off to university.
      If our intention is to find a way to extend schooling from 12 years to 16 years than I think this is a discussion that the Australian public needs to have and they need to agree to properly fund this change. There’s lots of ways to make this work but to date this extension of our schooling has happened by backdoor means, the backdoor manner has also left universities looking for ways to accommodate all these additional students (class rooms, lecture theaters, labs, equipment….) , it has been made clear to the universities that they cant increase fees for their Australian students nor will they see substantial increases in government funding so our universities are left with the only option being to accept ever more International students and basically rob’m’blind.
      Just to be clear I’m not defending this decision but I do understand the financial need that drives this outcome.
      Personally I think we need to step back and ask the more relevant question.
      Why do we believe that over 50% of our year 12 students will benefit from an additional 4 years of specialized university training/education?
      Why are we pushing an ever increasing percentage of our offspring on a course of study that won’t benefit them individually? Curiously it’s a course that’s equally unlikely to benefit us collectively, so why are we even on this road?
      It’s easy to be upset with the university administrators for stupidity but it’s more difficult to face the fact we’re the driving force behind this stupidity, it’s our desire that shapes their decisions.

      • “”The universities are being forced to find “inventive” ways to fund our social experiment, because direct government funding is definitely not keeping pace with the ever increasing percentage of Aussie kids heading off to university.””

        This IS one of the core reasons for where we are and where we are going with regards to Tertiary education in this country.
        Successive Labor and LNP Governments have contributed (by not contributing) to the current mess that we are in.

        I don’t see it changing any time soon.

        • Here’s how it works:

          If you kill TAFE you create a fake skills shortage while industry spruikers are crying out for skilled people. You have in fact a training crisis in regional areas because you have gutted public institutions. But if you have a fake skills shortage you can justify mass immigration. If you have mass immigration you can grandstand with ideas of sending ready-trained people to the regions.

          Yet they don’t want to go because there are no opportunities for their kids.

          Where there are “opportunities” in cities you cut funding to universities, raise fees and listen to industry flunkies who want the public and the employee to pick up the tab for their own training.

          Why? How about industry training its own people?

          These idiots want you to be indebted to obtain a degree that is unnecessary for a job that will pay stagnated wages so that “business” does not have to pay for training staff. These buffoons want someone with at least a Masters degree to work as a photocopy technician or put numbers into an Excel spreadsheet. So, people flood in to urban areas to buy a cheap breeding box made from Gyprock, MDF and thinly galvanised iron and take on a massive mortgage with the idea that a university degree is necessary for a happy life.

          And where are all our universities? Why smack bang in the middle of most major cities.

          However, the majority of Australian kids now at university would be better off being actually trained in a career. Universities are not vocational, yet they have been turned into degree factories by poorly educated ideological shrills in pursuit of the neoliberal dream. A university education is a total disaster for maybe half of our kids who would be far better off using their innovative youth to set themselves up in a career that has value and frees them from serfdom. TAFE was the way for many, now they are cut off from that lifeline in regional areas with methamphetamine as an alternative plan.

          • I’m not convinced that traditional TAFE’s are the answer either.
            Unfortunately it won’t be long now before AI and Robotics decimate the traditional trades.
            Routine tasks like Residential Electrical wiring are very low hanging fruit for anyone with a Smart compact robot.
            Drag wire from Point A to Point B . drilling through several studs and connect the colour coded ends correctly …Trivial
            Wire up the Main circuit board for the house …also trivial

            Brick Laying robots already exist.
            Concreting is damn hard yakka but it’s not a difficult task for the right specially built Robot.
            Carpentry is probably the most difficult to automate because Wood is a natural material and that means built in variance (Variances are the enemy of all automation)
            But you get the idea.
            Before we invest in revitalizing our TAFE system I think we need to understand what long term opportunities exist for the graduates of these courses.

          • Fisho – I agree that TAFE needs to be rethought. All of what you are saying is true. But the opportunity is in 3D printing, design, fabrication, robotics, internet of things, coding etc. Who is going to build, service and operate robotics? The same has happened in the automotive industry – grease monkeys became computer users. What universities are bad at is technical fabrication, process control and manufacturing. TAFE needs vision and connection with new collaborators to energise high tech industry in regional centres. I’m not arguing for the status quo. I’m arguing that the investment in universities is now driving a myopia that is preventing new industry emerging as we have lost the practical base and technical training. This isn’t about the jobs of yesterday, but the ones of tomorrow. The ‘service economy’ rubbish was a massive mistake.

          • @Clive, Sounds like a great plan, but just out of interest who in Australia is going to teach these courses?
            Over the last two decade we’ve completely decimated the small base of Technically skilled individuals that had slowly grown over the prior 4 decades. Australia has very few home grown Machine Automation and Robotics Programming experts and even less skilled 3D print experts. So who is going to teach these Trades?
            Will they teach in a hands on manner or revert to educating TAFE with an academic study model (exactly that mode of educating which fails so many of our kids, will be expanded)?
            Don’t get me wrong I’m all for it but I also understand the adaptability limits of the education system which we’ve created.

          • Fisho “Sounds like a great plan, but just out of interest who in Australia is going to teach these courses?”

            Nail, hammer and exactly!

            University myopia and the ‘service economy’ KoolAid has gutted Australia of these talents and distorted the work universities should be doing.

            One thing is for sure, no-one coming out of a mass produced Masters program in remotely delivered units in back-cracking, human resources or advanced PowerPoint presentations at Australian universities is going to re-invent TAFE.

            The ALP and LNP have taken our kids to the cliff edge, made them pay for the privilege, and told them that jumping off the edge is an “opportunity”.

          • I could read fisho-Clive conversations all day.

            It would be even better if they dropped the occasional f-bomb or c-bomb in their posts, but I guess that’s a matter of personal preference.

          • Clive and Fisho …

            I disagree that robotics or AI will replace vast swaths of trades anytime soon, if its even possible.

            Firstly it seems you two consider education to be a Taylor like behavioral exercise in fulfilling the markets needs at anyone specific time, not a undertaking to educate humans which will be able to contribute to society as a citizen in both the public and private spheres E.g. a widget or cog for capital not unlike Jefferson’s nail shack I.E. early productive [tm (manluable)] sorts are graduated to lower management before their to old so they can reinforce the paradigm on the next batch of market entrants.

            On to trades … the issue is you can’t code intrinsic knowledge or life experience over a protracted period in code logic because it would require the coder to have the multidisciplinary skills, gained by the time and experience in a dynamic environment to consider both the applied skill and the ethical applications. Sure some assembly line [fordism] can be automated because the tasks are just simple geometric problems which is relatively easy to code yet needs constant monitoring for tolerances. Basically a simple repetitive exercise that not unlike fossil fuels manifold increases productivity from a balance sheet prospective. Basically its only applicable to Mgf and can’t operate outside a controlled environment.

          • Clive; are you suggesting that the powers that be have actually planned this all along?
            I doubt they have that much intelligence and foresight.
            Rather, I think it has been a process of cut here and cut there, see what happens, react, adjust, cut again, adjust, see what happens and so on and so forth.
            Much of it based on what is expedient at the time.
            The end result is a dysfunctional, flawed mess that is managing to function but the price is being paid by society and individuals in ways that are not easy to measure and take time to come to light and be evident unless one is really paying attention or already in the middle of the sh*tstorm.

          • Prometheus69 …

            What part about neoliberalism is confusing or the funds and networks which advanced it, not that its just old wine in a new bottle. Did you miss the Powell memo, Koch’s proclamation it did not go far enough, the plutocracy Citi memo, I mean how much historical evidence is required to satisfy your rigorous intellectual standards.

          • #Prometheus69. It’s an interesting question.

            If you throw down a steak to a fat labrador, what happens? Is that a conspiracy? Nope. But it is highly predictable.

            My take is that the ideological possession and rhetoric about markets and the ‘evil’ of public investment and austerity etc etc that served the interests of a trans-party neoliberal clique (I don’t really like the term, but people know what I mean by it I think) got us to this point. It empowered a small class of rent seekers and game them rhetoric that sounded plausible at first. On this basis our government gave away our public institutions to be managed for the benefit of a few and the exploitation of many. This began the feedback loop that echos in the media today; that such people are geniuses, deserve millions and ’employ’ all the dregs. It says that our “service economy” based on debt, asset bubbles, mass immigration and selling our amenity is terrific.

            It’s a self serving lie.

            I don’t for a minute think that most of the people once blithering about ‘economic rationalism’ had the slightest clue about the social and cultural costs. They didn’t have clue one about science, technology and industry, that’s for certain. People like Hawke and Keating who “reformed” the economy had no crystal ball and just followed an economic game plan that had been rolled out in the UK, USA and NZ. They ripped the lid off Pandora’s Box and moved the ALP to the right. Soon we had everyone at full steam ahead believing in their own [email protected] Opportunists came out of the woodwork and made a killing through a system that distorted society. And if they made a killing everyone thought that they must be geniuses.

            Is Eeva Leinonen a genius? No, just another opportunist.

            #Skippy

            I get what you are saying.

            How I see this is that we have forgotten that science, technology, art and culture generally come from societies that support them. The f’wits high on the KoolAid think that “jobs” support society and that you get an ‘education’ to get a good job. In doing so they have fundamentally misunderstood the value of education, craft, experimentation, innovation and banging away in a back shed – these are cultural behaviours that become attached to public values and true diversity of ability. Once you distort and break the ecology of creativity, innovation and capability you kill something at the grass roots of society. This has happened in Australia and it will need generational change to fix. It has narrowed the vision of what is possible and our horizons have shrunk so much that no one can see the way out.

            Taylorism and scientific management is the dirty little secret of managerialism. It was created by a railway engineer as a way to make the workers subservient to technocrats. It is alive and well in the black heart of people like Eeva Leinonen, even if she is probably unaware of it. Because the best way to get someone to care less about their minions is to reward their bad behaviour with large amounts of money and a corporate game plan that seeks only to ‘manage’ people for efficiency and not humanity and dignity.

            We need to hit these people where it hurts and pull them down in the eyes of their peers and Australian society in general by taking their status and calling them what they are – Judas Academics and proof that scum does rise to the top. They are the Christopher Skases of the academic world. We owe them nothing but contempt and derision. On the other hand we need to loudly praise people like Dr Gerd Schroeder-Turk. We are lucky to have them and they represent the very best among us.

          • Clive I agree in principle with the thrust of your comment but disagree with the “scientific management” aspect, because I consider the aspect more accurately described as Scientism from an epistemological and ontological ownership issue with ideological dramas.

  4. All international students need to leave australia now and stop taking jobs from local kids…signed an australian patriot

  5. Hopefully, he will do the right thing and persuade Murdoch University’s top brass to drop the legal action against Dr Schroeder-Turk.

    This is exactly what “Murdoch University’s top brass” wanted, to shift attention from “dropping English language standards and “dumbing down” courses for profit, thereby driving increased incidences of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and rising failure rates” to far more irrelevant issue of free speech.
    How about, instead of dropping the legal action against Dr Schroeder-Turk, Murdoch University’s top brass decide to increase entry requirements, improve courses and fight plagiarism ….

    I think even Dr Schroeder-Turk would be happier if charges stay and system changes

  6. Hey, doesn’t the Australian public own these institutions? In Australia, universities have too much autonomy and little accountability.

  7. Should crowd fund the case,
    Murdoch would have to settle,..as what if they lost?
    Which they would

    • You have to think longer term.

      It would be better if Murdoch won. The scam should run until the roof falls in on the rotten structure. Then it might get fixed.

      Murdoch losing this would only result in a patch-job. A kick of the can.

      • Peaches, m’dear! It would be really nice if you would stay in your character, all this hopping and bouncing across diametrically opposed positions is giving me a mental whiplash I don’t need right now…

        • My position is always clear. I’m always for maximum devastation.

          Sometimes I have to abstain from immediate lesser devastation, as a result.

  8. Even StevenMEMBER

    You would think some cooler heads at Murdoch will prevail. Irrespective of the legal outcome (the law can be an ass) they cannot win in the court of public opinion.

    • Yes, because the court of public opinion holds so much pull these days… that went out about the time we stopped public stoning…

    • Why does it need to win the court of public opinion?

      It compete is a cartel space, and a ‘victory’ destroys the career of a dissenter, and a warning to other prospective dissenters. That is what a culture of “attacking hate speech”, of denying “wrong-thinkers a platform” is meant to achieve.

  9. A corporate body silencing dissent… whowuddathunkit!? .. I wonder if Gerd flies Qantas.

    This is why a society needs to maintain free specch at all cost, and fee-fees be damned. Building a culture of silencing “wrong-think” is just the spear tip of empowered/connected parties to silence what it doesn’t like to have expressed.

    The irony is the push for this started on university campuses, in the pursuit of ‘safe spaces’.

    Universities were meant to be ‘unsafe’ by design, where every expression, every prevailing orthodoxy could be challenged without the fear of reprisal.

    Copernicus at university of Bologna, and Galileo at the university of Pisa were engaged in ‘unsafe’ challenges to orthodoxy with their helio centric models?

    Now, try and express facts such as there are only 2 genders, and there is no gender pay gap…..

    If you supported 18C, if you supported Qantas… then you have implicitly supported this.

    • Interesting you see this as a free speech thing. Others have seen it as a suppressing whistleblowers so allowing corruption to flourish thing. On 4corners the Murdoch academics were compelled by concern for welfare of students and the academic integrity of our university sector. All I’m saying is that there are many angles to this story, all of which are important to the function of our society. I can only see the university response as undermining our Australian institutions and society. In this specific case it looks at least vindictive. Or it could be an attempt to stop scutiny that would occur in a proper investigation. Surely the university execs should have known how this action would be perceived, even if they actually believed they were innocent.

      • “Others have seen it as a ….suppressing whistleblowers

        Yeah.

        When free speech is seen as paramount, as entrenched, as something more than respected but protected…. it takes precedence.

        It becomes the media, rather than the message.

        And it’s an aspect we hold paramount above most other things.

        If free speech was paramount, which I am asserting it should be, then any anti-whistleblower response would be met with “suck it up princess, he’s allowed to say what he wants”

    • Australia’s Group of Eight universities have become careful, to the point of paranoia at the thought of anything tarnishing their crafted “image” and leading to any possible drop off in interest and enrolments from international and local students.

      Universities are now not all that different from a Department Store selling brand clothes and fashion to the masses.