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Macquarie Uni responds to Murry Salby. What they don’t say speaks volumes

In reply to my email request, a spokesperson from Macquarie replied today. The entire response to Murry Salby’s 20-point-list of serious accusations is reproduced in full (my thoughts below):

10 July 2013

Prof Murry Salby

Macquarie University does not normally comment on the circumstances under which employees leave the University. However, we feel in this instance it is necessary to do so in order to correct misinformation.
The decision to terminate Professor Murry Salby’s employment with Macquarie University had nothing to do with his views on climate change nor any other views. The University supports academic freedom of speech and freedom to pursue research interests.

Professor Salby’s employment was terminated firstly, because he did not fulfil his academic obligations, including the obligation to teach. After repeated directions to teach, this matter culminated in his refusal to undertake his teaching duties and he failed to arrive at a class he had been scheduled to take.

The University took this matter very seriously as the education and welfare of students is a primary concern. The second reason for his termination involved breaches of University policies in relation to travel and use of University resources.

The termination of his employment followed an extensive and detailed internal process, including two separate investigations undertaken by a committee chaired by a former Australian Industrial Relations Commissioner and including a union nominee.

— Attributed to “A spokesperson” for Macquarie University


My thoughts

Is that it? This did not address any of Murry Salby’s points. What misinformation was corrected here? Macquarie University want us to believe his unpopular research conclusions had nothing to do with his termination of employment. But when he claims to have been employed to do research, they reply instead that he failed his teaching duties. Wasn’t that his point?

As I understand it, Salby was lured here for his research. He moved all the way to Australia in order to “rebuild his research program” for which he was promised many resources. According to him, Macquarie delayed, broke its contractual agreement and failed to provide them. (See points 1,2 &3). Macquarie don’t appear to disagree with this. When he protested, didn’t the university try to reduce his role to that of “a student teaching assistant”. (See point 10). If he objected to taking on that teaching role (say, in order to do the research he was originally employed to do) is that so bad?

Purely hypothetically, suppose, after they hired him, they realized he was not making the “right” conclusions. Wouldn’t it be o-so-convenient to withhold resources, then ask him to do more and more teaching, of a more and more onerous nature, and then starve him of time and resources to do his research, until he quit, or grew frustrated, or stepped over some arbitrary new line? It would be the bureaucratic way to sabotage awkward research. We don’t know that happened, but the response above does nothing to show that it didn’t.

What Macquarie University did not say:

First and foremost, they find no fault with his research or methodology.

They did not describe (with details) how forces outside their control made it impossible to provide Salby with the resources they were contractually required to provide. They did not describe making an effort to help him with his research. Nor do they point to other researchers they employ with skeptical views who speak highly of Macquarie Uni.

They don’t disagree with his points, implying they did cancel an air ticket on him leaving him in a foreign city with no accommodation and no warning, or even a courtesy call. Apparently, they did hold a misconduct proceeding which he was unable to attend because of the flight cancellation (really?). Macquarie claim that process was “extensive” and “detailed” but most people would expect that if that was the case, Murry Salby might have had the right to explain himself in person, rather than to be phoning last minute hotels in Paris instead.

The university may well take the education and welfare of its students  as “a primary concern” but I suspect great universities hold groundbreaking research as the top goal (and the students learn by imitation). Furthermore, brave talented research attracts brave talented students. Shouldn’t Macquarie Uni want to foster debate, keep a broad spectrum of voices on campus, provoke a little controversy, and maintain impeccable standards of logic and reason?

It’s hard to imagine science students would be inspired to watch universities reward researchers who find results that fit government policies, but quietly sideline and undermine the potential of researchers who announce results that don’t. Am I being taxed to fund that?

I suggest that a university of this type (if that is what Macquarie is) would train good bottle-washers, but not researchers who break new ground.

Macquarie University is welcome to respond, as is Murry Salby. Obviously there are many details we do not know, but if Macquarie Uni had a good reason to act the way it did, it has not provided it today.



Murry Salby has emailed me today with some background information, and to answer a question I had. He confirms the email yesterday was written by him, and has provided some documentation to back that up, for which I am grateful. He remains very concerned about his former PhD student.


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