Current and former staff at the University of Canberra have hit out at the secrecy of management after journalism students, including myself, were warned off making freedom of information requests.

As Crikey reported on Tuesday, four students were pressured into withdrawing FOI applications targeting controversial stories involving UC administration.

As the university finally responded to the claims following widespread local media coverage, former staff have raised concerns the university is prioritising their management and finances over students and teaching.

John Passant, a former UC academic, says UC leadership has a “profit before people approach” and he believes “education has become a product, a commodity to be bought and sold on the market”.

Another former UC academic (and a lecturer of my mine in previous years), Josh Rosner, agrees: “I resigned my academic teaching position at the University of Canberra because I felt I could no longer look students in the eye and faithful suggest they were studying at a university that cared about their education.

“UC, as an employer, is the most dysfunctional, political, unsupportive environment I have ever worked in.”

UC refused to comment or answer questions on my article and instead released a statement claiming that they have “a policy of open and free access to information” and that “the University’s FOI Officer responded to all of the [FOI] requests”.

Professor Greg Battye responded yesterday, stating “several concerns were raised by different parties” about the FOI requests put to the university.

Professor Battye says he passed on these concerns to lecturer Crispin Hull, after which Hull made “a very reasonably phrased request to all the students involved in FOI requests to UC to withdraw those requests”.

Hull also commented on the issue, claiming he defended his students, including myself, from UC management.

“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’,” he wrote in an email to professor Battye.

He also informed the university he would not be a part of any “bullying conduct”.

Several students have also come out since the article was published informing me they are no longer formally withdrawing their FOI requests. One student, Ashley Hamilton, is pursuing an FOI on UC buying the naming rights to the ACT Brumbies.

The National Tertiary Education Union also expressed concern over the issue. Stephen Darwin, the NTEU’s ACT secretary, is worried about the level of secrecy: “The way Ms Ingram’s FOI request and those of her colleagues was handled raises serious questions about the state of accountability within the university.”

Darwin also says two of the subjects of the FOI requests — the changes to the journalism degree and the ACT Brumbies sponsorship — are issues the NTEU had already tried, and failed, to obtain information on.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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