Image for University Stands up to Political Bullying

The attempt by Bass MHR Andrew Nikolic to silence Launceston academic Dr Michael Powell has been firmly rebuffed by the University of Tasmania.

After the extraordinary stand by over 120 academics supporting Dr Powell and the academic freedom to speak out publically while indicating an association with the University, the University issued a joint statement by the Dean Prof. Susan Dodds and Dr Michael Powell. (see below)

It confirmed that: “ In engaging in public debate Dr Powell has not sought to test the bounds of academic freedom, has presented his views as an individual and has occasioned no disciplinary action in relation to any correspondence.”

In issuing the statement the university has clarified and confirmed the “right of all academics to engage in critical enquiry, intellectual discourse and public controversy within their area of professional expertise.”

Dr Powell later said that the University had “shown considerable understanding” and a “genuine willingness to resolve the situation for which I am deeply grateful.”

The significance of so many academics coming out in support “cannot be underestimated”, Dr Powell added. “This has given real strength and certainty to academic freedom and I have been impressed by the University’s preparedness to engage.”

Last Friday in a letter to the Examiner Mr Nikolic gloated that the prospect that Dr Powell might be “disciplined” appeared “linked to the university’s desire that he stops representing his personal, political views as those of the university.”

The University statement shows how wrong Mr Nikolic is.

• Nikolic Refuses to Debate Dr Powell

A letter from the University of Tasmania endorsing Dr Powell’s right to engage in public debate within his area of expertise concluded with the statement, “We look forward to continuing public debate on matters of importance.”

Dr Powell said that he had written to Dr Nikolic and had issued an invitation on Mr Nikolic’s Facebook page to have a “public discussion” in an open public forum that all could attend. “

“The public craves civilised considered discussion and debate on ideas and issues of policy, ” Dr Powell added. “But Mr Nikolic simply refuses to respond.”

“It seems fine to sneak behind my back and complain to my employer but he hasn’t the mettle to face me. He may have faced the Taliban, but he hasn’t the courage to face an unarmed civilian constituent.”

“The trouble with bullying personalities is always an inner inadequacy and paranoia that prevents public discussion particularly when it requires them to argue rather than bellow a case.

“A short man is never short of problems.”

• The letter from Professor Susan Dodds and Dr Michael Powell

Dear Editor, Re ‘Liberal MP accused of career threat’ published March 16, 2015 in various titles and websites ...

We reiterate the University of Tasmania’s commitment to academic freedom and the right of all academics to engage in critical enquiry, intellectual discourse and public controversy within their area of professional expertise.

We support our academics engaging in public debate on issues in the knowledge that they are reflecting their own views and are not necessarily representing the views of the University.

In engaging in public debate Dr Powell has not sought to test the bounds of academic freedom, has presented his views as an individual and has occasioned no disciplinary action in relation to any correspondence.

We look forward to continuing public debate on matters of importance.

Yours sincerely,

Prof Susan Dodds, Dean, Faculty of Arts.

Dr Mike Powell, Lecturer, School of Humanities

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times ...

An extraordinary invasion of privacy of an ordinary private citizen

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• Wining Pom, in Comments: ...“He may have faced the Taliban, but he hasn’t the courage to face an unarmed civilian constituent.” Well, he did have a lot of armed soldiers and planes and tanks to help him. Maybe he would be open to debate if a team of government funded lawyers were there to back him up.

• Garry Stannus, in Comments: Well, Lindsay.  This article is a bit of a disappointment.  You seem to have published something which flies in the face of our own TT Code.  I refer to the “A short man is never short of problems.” statement in Dr Powell’s article. In general, I thought Dr Powell strayed too far from the academic freedom-of-speech issue and into attacks on the personality of Andrew Nikolic.  However, in context, it was understandable, and forgiveable … that is, to describe Nikolic as a bully is reasonable, in light of the manner in which he has recently and previously sought to counter opposing points-of-view.  But to resort to a reference to his shortness was quite ‘unacademic’ and also inconsistent with the TT Code.  (Let it be noted, that I’ve long opposed the Code, while preferring peer evaluation as opposed to editorial intervention)

• Steve, in Comments: #8; Interesting point Garry. When I first read the quote in question, I thought the same as you. Then I re-read and decided that “short” was being used more as a generic term to cover an individual’s feelings of inadequacy rather than a specific reference to any vertical challenges Nikolic may face; hence the quotation marks. I must confess my interpretation was partially based on the supposition that Dr Powell would have more sense than to resort to physical slurs. He’s comfortably capable of running rings around Nikolic in intellectual argument. Why would he bother with school yard insults? Perhaps if Dr Powell is following this thread, he could clarify the point?

• Michael Powell, in Comments: Of course debate would be good value if properly moderated but Nikolic has been told to pull his head in. This is all about tactics not substance.  I am sorry if this sounds ad hominem but a person of such belligerence who acts with contempt towards anyone who disagrees with him portrays a particularly vile form of abject cowardice when they won’t come out and “fight like a man” [apologies for the sexist cliche but it is the only one he would understand]. The contrast of military macho and gutlessness reveals the character I’m afraid. Please make no mistake his act of complaining about me to the university was done with petty malice with the intention of causing harm. While ultimately we succeeded in a wonderful result it cost me time and energy I could have used otherwise. This sort of person is unfit for office.