The former head of journalism at the Auckland University of Technology has been sacked for allegedly saying naughty things on Twitter. But was it his political views that really got him sacked?

I HAD SOME brief communication with Martin Hirst a few years ago, but about what exactly  I now can't recall. I do remember though that he said some encouraging things about this blog. At the time he was head of journalism at the Auckland University of Technology. He made a series of contributions to The Daily Blog last year.

Last week Martin Hirst was sacked by Deakin University in Melbourne, where he was professor of journalism. He was suspended without pay by the university in April.

Sacking a senior and respected academic like Hirst suggests that he must have engaged in some mighty serious misconduct. Well, no. Deakin University dismissed him for being allegedly naughty on Twitter. It claimed that tweets he made to his own personal account, @ethicalmartini, breached the university's code of conduct for academics.

Deakin University reacted after it received a complaint about a Twitter exchange in which Hirst said “so are you happy to fail commerce?” to a Deakin University student, Lachlan McDougall, who had made a crack about the standard of his teaching.

McDougall tweeted: “I’m glad I’m a commerce student and not subject to this man’s stewardship.”

The implication drawn from Hirst's retort was that he was threatening the student with academic failure. This is totally far fetched since the student is studying commerce while Hirst teaches journalism. It's difficult to know exactly how Hirst could have carried out such an alleged threat. In any case, Hirst says he was simply making an observation about McDougall's intelligence. He says he was unaware that McDougall was a student at Deakin. 

Hirst told the media: "To say those tweets are offensive is just ridiculous. I can't believe that Deakin would accuse me of threatening a student. I've been there for  five years, I've been an academic for 20 years and I've never had a student complaint."

The identity of the complainant has been withheld by the university.

There have been far greater insults thrown about on Twitter than this. As the blog En Passant says:

"One problem for Universities is that if Hirst’s comments are a sackable offence, what will they do to all the other academics who have posted angry responses in a private capacity and perhaps even a work capacity to right wing nut jobs and others attacking them? I suspect Hirst is not alone in making this type of comment. If so, how does Deakin University propose to enforce its interpretation of its standards and its expectations of appropriate behaviour?"

Deakin authorities also did not take kindly to him tweeting that Sky News viewers were "‘reassuring, masturbating chimps." and for posting a photo of a beanie with the massage 'fuck it' emblazoned on it.

Deakin authorities said that the tweets were offensive, insulting and potentially damaged the university's reputation.

It seems that if Hirst is guilty of anything it's one of tweeting from the hip when perhaps some circumspection was required given his position with academia. But this affair just looks like a university administration wanting to rid itself of an outspoken academic who has political views it is uncomfortable with. In an age when neoliberalism has effectively neutered the university as a place of political activism and of critical thought, we need more academics like Hirst - not less.

The Murdoch press have been after Hirst, a Marxist, for some years.

In 2008 Hirst posted a picture of himself at the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery in London. He later used the photo as his profile picture for his Twitter account.

In 2014 a Telegraph columnist, Tim Blair, posted the photo on his blog 'describing it as "the finest leftie selfie ever taken". Subsequently Hirst was a target of derisory comments on Twitter, which ended up embroiling other people as well. After describing his Twitter trolls as "stupid as fuck" Hirst  was suspended by Deakin University. He was reinstated after protests from fellow academics.

On June 8  Tim Blair wrote a derisory blog post titled 'Marxist Martin Misses Your Money'.  On June 10 he snidely  reacted to Hirst's dismissal  with the comment  'Throw him on the pile' - referring to people who have been sacked or suspended for what they have said on Twitter.

The National Tertiary and Education Union says that Hirst has been another victim of a 'culture war targeting left wing activists through their social media usage".

Secretary Colin Long  told Crikey that “What is also very clear to us is that the Murdoch media, and supporters of the Murdoch press, are engaged in trolling campaigns to try to expose left-wing activists and get them in trouble, And that’s been the case for Martin.”

Martin Hirst's sacking comes  after Roz Ward, an academic at  La Trobe University in Melbourne was suspended, then reinstated, after joking that Australia's 'racist flag' should be replaced by a 'red one'. Roz Ward is also a Marxist.


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