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Sydney University wrong to fire lecturer over swastika on Israeli flag, judge says


A controversial Sydney academic who superimposed a swastika on an Israeli flag did so under intellectual freedom and could not be sacked as a result, a judge has said.
Dr Tim Anderson worked at the University of Sydney from February 1988 until his resignation in February 2019. When he left, he was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Economy.

During his time at university, he made several claims, including that a News Corp journalist was a “traitor” over the Armenian Genocide story and that US Senator John McCain was a “key US war criminal”.

He also said the News had spread “deceptive war propaganda” in support of what he called the war on terror in Syria and had placed a swastika on the Israeli flag in a slideshow about the media’s coverage of the Palestinian conflict.
Dr. Anderson was part of a delegation that visited Syria in 2013, meeting with government and non-government figures, including President Dr. Bashar al-Assad.
In response to his claims, the University of Sydney issued Dr Anderson two separate warnings in August 2017 and October 2018 before dismissing him in February 2019.

Two months later, with the support of the National Higher Education Union, he sued his former employer in Federal Court.

After initially losing the lawsuit in November 2020, Dr. Anderson filed a successful appeal.
The full court found that scientists at the institution were allowed to express even “deeply offensive and insensitive” views under the banner of intellectual freedom, as long as they did not harass, embarrass or intimidate anyone.
The case was then sent back to Judge Tom Towley, who ruled on Thursday that Dr Anderson’s comments were made under intellectual freedom protections and that the terms of his employment contract meant he could not be fired for them.
The judge found that the warnings given over the statements were a breach of contract, as was the university’s decision to fire him.

Professor Stephen Garton, who was deputy vice-chancellor when Dr Anderson was at the University of Sydney, also breached employment law by issuing warnings, Judge Tolley said.

An NTEU spokesman said justice was long overdue and called the decision “a win for academic freedom” and the workplace contract enshrines that principle.
“This case was never about what Dr. Anderson said,” an AAP spokesman said.
“We don’t always agree with our members, but we will defend their right to academic freedom, a cornerstone of universities.”
In a statement, the University of Sydney said it was “disappointed” by the decision.
“We note that we previously managed to get all other aspects of the proceedings closed. We will now take some time to review the decision and consider our response and next steps. We will not be commenting further on this matter at this time.”
A spokesperson said the university remains deeply committed to the expression and protection of intellectual freedom, which must be exercised responsibly and in accordance with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards.
“We also believe that civility and respect should be especially valued when people disagree with each other,” they said.

Dr Anderson has been approached for comment.


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