James Cook University staff avoid using emails after climate change sceptic sacked
Peter Ridd was sacked by JCU after allegedly making disrespectful comments about colleagues. (Source: Facebook)
A leading Great Barrier Reef researcher says academic staff at James Cook University (JCU) are avoiding using their staff emails in the wake of the sacking of climate change sceptic Peter Ridd.
“They’re using G-mail, Hotmail and Yahoo instead,” Jon Brodie from the University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies told 7.30.
Professor Ridd was sacked last month for allegedly disrespectful comments he made about his colleagues on Sky TV and in private emails he sent on his university account.
According to documents filed in the Federal Circuit Court, Professor Ridd sent a private email describing a leading coral researcher as “not having any clue about the weather”, and that he “will give the normal doom science about the Great Barrier Reef”.
He also said in another email that JCU, along with other universities, are “Orwellian in nature”.
Dismissal sends a ‘terrible signal’
Jon Brodie is critical of JCU’s actions, despite being the target of some of Peter Ridd’s comments. (ABC News: Laura Hegarty)
Professor Brodie was the target of some of Peter Ridd’s criticisms, but he still feels the search of the outspoken academic’s emails sends a “terrible signal” to the rest of JCU’s academic staff.
“A lot of people will be thinking about what they wrote in email they thought were private to the people they were sent to,” he told 7.30.
“We know already lots of people are now not using the JCU email system, it’s happening now.
“If they wanted, they (JCU) could go back through anybody’s emails and find what they said, maybe even the senior management team.”
JCU has defended the move.
“What we are expecting, through the (university’s) code of conduct and our enterprise agreement, is that we have a safe, respectful, ethical and professional workplace,” deputy vice chancellor Iain Gordon told 7.30.
‘He has broken the code of conduct on many occasions’
JCU deputy vice chancellor Iain Gordon says Peter Ridd was given academic freedom. (Source: JCU)
The National Tertiary Education Union accepts JCU was within its legal rights to search Professor Ridd’s email account, but argues the university is breaching a principle of academic freedom.
“There is the appearance that this is related to utterances he’s made in his field of expertise,” says the Union’s academic spokesman Andrew Bonnell.
“Sometimes exchanges do get robust, but I think people should be able to cope with that.”
JCU argues the sacking of Peter Ridd had nothing to do with his questioning of the science of climate change or the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, but rather the manner in which he made his arguments.
“Peter has always been allowed to conduct himself in relation to what our expectations of academic freedom are, it’s the fact that he has broken the code of conduct on many occasions,” said Professor Gordon.
Peter Ridd received an official warning in 2016 for critical comments he made about a colleague in an email he sent to a journalist.
But he was charged with the sackable offence of “serious misconduct” last August, after he told Sky TV that “scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies can no longer be trusted”.
‘If you say something important it’s likely to upset people’
Peter Ridd still stands by his statement.
“There’s no doubt that what I said was a robust thing, and it would have upset people — I don’t dispute that — but the thing is, if you say something important it’s likely to upset people,” he told 7.30.
Professor Brodie, an international authority on water quality, says he’s locked horns with Peter Ridd for more than a decade.
And he feels Peter Ridd did go too far on Sky TV, but argues that there were mitigating circumstances.
“He could have put it in better words but the problem is, when you’re on Sky News and Alan Jones, they will get you to say things beyond what you wanted to say,” Professor Brodie said.
Peter Ridd is challenging his dismissal in the Federal Circuit Court, with support from crowd funding and the Institute of Public Affairs, a promoter of climate change scepticism.