Crikey is running a piece on efforts by the University of Canberra via lecturer Crispin Hull to stop journalism students digging into cuts by the the University.
the deputy dean of arts and design, professor Greg Battye, instructed Hull to pass on a message to me as the one remaining student refusing to withdraw their FOI request. Battye cited UC legal advice and said to let me know that if I continued with the FOI it could result in a breach of the student conduct rules. Such breaches can lead to expulsion or exclusion from university, or being failed in the subject involved. Battye claimed he had a legal opinion that the assessment required UC academic ethics clearance, which had not been sought.
However, ethics clearance has never previously been required for journalism students to write an assessable story?—?not even one about the University of Canberra. I believe this was just another attempt to frighten me off investigating a potentially negative story on UC by accessing documents through FOI.
UPDATE 10/04/12 5:19 The Canberra Times is running their former editor’s side of the story:
Mr Hull said yesterday the Crikey story was one-sided and said he had clearly defended his students from Professor Battye’s claim they risked breaching the UC’s ethical guidelines.
According to an email from Mr Hull to Professor Battye sent last Tuesday, Mr Hull said “First, there is no risk. As I tell students, every Australian has a legally enforceable right to ask for and obtain access to documents under FOI, so there cannot possibly be any ethics-committee requirements for such “research”, if indeed it even qualifies as “research”. Any legal advice you have to the contrary, in my view, is plainly wrong.’’
He also said that “such a warning, in my view, would be tantamount to bullying conduct, and I will not be a part of it.’’
Mr Hull noted that singling out the student who was pursuing an FOI request with the UC would also “appear extremely odd’’.