COVID-19 raises major questions and challenges for all societies. These are times in which we need more than ever the contribution of those who make it their life’s work to teach, learn, research, critique, and support learners through the transformative journey that is tertiary education. We, in the tertiary education sector, are the frontline in Aotearoa’s social and economic recovery.

We need greater academic freedom, not less. In recent weeks TEU has seen a range of members asking for support after being censured for speaking up about decisions made by managers in their institution.

At Te Kunenga Ki Pūrehuroa | Massey University, a proposed new media commentary policy is under consultation which allows staff to ‘promote civic leadership’, but denies them the right to act as critic and conscience in publicly criticising their publicly-funded institution.

TEU Massey University organiser Heather Warren says Massey’s media commentary policy signals an attempt by the university to silence further criticism by staff of Massey’s ‘Digital Plus’ strategy. The strategy was announced earlier this year and was met with widespread criticism from TEU, staff and students who together voiced their anger and disbelief at the lack of consultation around changes that will negatively impact the study of science in Aotearoa.

Warren says TEU members at Massey feel the new media policy is an attempt to intimidate them prior to the release of the next Digital First discussion document, adding,

“Academic freedom is being impinged by these policies. All of these universities like to be the bastion of critic and conscience of society until staff critique them.”

TEU National Secretary Sandra Grey says academic freedom includes the right to critique decisions around teaching, learning, and research,

“TEU calls on all those in decision-making positions which have been strengthened during two decades of treating education as a business rather than a critical public good to use this moment to recover the mission of publicly funded tertiary education. We call on them to stop being managers who fear debate about the direction of universities, and to instead embrace public debate for the public good”.