Staff Banned From Wearing University Branded Clothes While Handing Out Political Flyers

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The Tertiary Education Union says a major university is threatening freedom of political expression. Max Chalmers reports.

The Australian Catholic University (ACU) has been accused of acting like a high school after banning staff from wearing university branded clothes while handing out political flyers at a local railway station.

In an incident that has perplexed the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the ACU has demanded staff refrain from wearing any item that identifies them as an ACU staff member while taking part in the NTEU’s ‘No 100K Degrees Campaign’, which targets the Coalition government’s attempted deregulation of the higher education sector. The campaign has included activity in the Sydney seat of Reid, in which the ACU’s Strathfield campus is located.

The university’s management does not support the campaign, and its Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven has been a public backer of Christopher Pyne’s now stalled efforts to uncap university fees.

In response to the campaign, the university has warned the NTEU any ‘misrepresentation’ of its ‘brand’ will be taken seriously.

Genevieve Kelly, NSW Secretary of the NTEU, told New Matilda that a series of warnings issued by the university represented an attack on the ability of staff to make free political comment.

“There’s definitely a threatening tone,” Kelly said. “I’m concerned about democratic rights of staff at a university if they are even being questioned when they’re handing out material outside of working hours at a local railway station.”

She compared the warning to a Catholic school’s uniform policy.

“The ACU do seem to think they’re running some kind of high school, not a university campus,” Kelly said.

According to Kelly the union was also denied a stall at the university’s open day, and NTEU members who arrived with balloons and leaflets on the day were “hounded off campus”.

“The staff of the university have every right to express opinions. In fact, it’s their duty to on things that impact on the community, [even]if they happen to disagree with the corporate line of the university,” she said.

The university also took issue with the union after it organised a screening of Ivory Tower on the ACU’s Strathfield campus, a documentary critical of growing student debt and the corporatisation of the university sector in the US.

The university complained the NTEU had failed to follow proper procedure when booking the room. In response, the union showed New Matilda a completed booking form.

A spokesperson for the ACU declined to respond to specific questions, issuing a general statement instead.

“ACU regularly supports a range of public events on campus involving students, staff and members of the community,” it said. “Depending on the nature of these events there are protocols in place for approving of activities and attendees and these approvals are designed to ensure the events are appropriately targeted and comply with relevant policy and planning provisions”.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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