FSU backs academic freedom to call out flat-earthers

The Free Speech Union is backing a University Lecturer's fight for academic freedom, against University of Waikato attempts to stop him from describing people as "cranks", who claim on religious authority that the earth is flat, and that people lived alongside dinosaurs.

Dr Raymond Richards who teaches history at the University of Waikato faces potential disciplinary action for his lectures about methods of critical thinking in history.

A spokesperson for the Union, Stephen Franks says, “When anti-vaxxers are reminding us that the difference between science and superstition may mean life or death for innocent people, freedom for people to call things as they see them is as important as it ever was. When discerning fake news can be vital we should be supporting the teaching of critical analysis in universities. Not shutting it down.”

Earlier this year, Dr Richards in teaching his course referred by way of example to “religious cranks” who said the earth was flat, the sun smaller than the moon, and that dinosaurs and Adam and Eve had met.

Following a student raising a concern, the Head of the Social Sciences School summoned Dr Richards to a meeting. They did not reach an agreement but HR later wrote to him saying they “do not expect to have a repeat of these matters”.

The Head of School also cancelled an in-class test of the students’ understanding of the methods of critical thinking.

“Universities have a duty, codified in the Education and Training Act 2020, to uphold academic freedom that includes the freedom of academic staff to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and state controversial opinions.”

Dr Richards will be delivering the same lecture to this semester’s students on Friday at 10am, in room S.1.01 at the University of Waikato. A lecture outline is copied below.

“The University has let down its students and staff by sending a strong signal that ‘hurt feelings’ will be enough to shut down academic teaching.”