The peak body representing Australia's 39 universities has called on political and community leaders to speak out in support of academic freedom.
The call follows reports from a number of institutions of threats against academics researching climate change.
According to Universities Australia Chair, Professor Glyn Davis AC, "Recent revelations of systematic and sustained threats to many climate change scientists in Australian universities are a fundamental attack upon intellectual inquiry".
"To disagree with evidence or conclusions from academic research is part of any robust debate. To seek to intimidate scientists who reach unwelcome findings is an assault on the ideal of a free exchange of ideas. It undermines our democratic society.
"University leaders state clearly and publicly their commitment to open debate. Academics should be able to contribute to public discussion without the risk of vendettas or email abuse campaigns.
"Serious public policy debate needs civil and informed discussion. Aggressive abuse and hate campaigns make no helpful contribution to a crucial policy debate. They simply seek to silence unwelcome voices.
"Fortunately, academics at Australian universities continue to refuse to be intimidated by the few who grasp neither the principles of academic freedom nor the urgent imperative of independent research", Professor Davis concluded.
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Brief: Academic freedom within universities
Universities differentiate themselves from other institutions and education providers through the discovery of new knowledge and insights, supported by evidence.
These findings can often challenge existing views, but to gain the benefit that comes from new knowledge and deeper understanding, universities are committed to free, open and critical expression across all aspects of human endeavour. Universities focus on teaching students how to think rather than what to think, allowing them to reach their own conclusions on matters of ideological debate.
Central to this role is the freedom of staff and students to teach, research, learn, and engage in public debate independently of any external interference or pressure.
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of individuals seeking to threaten the personal safety of members of the university community, rather than engage with the substance of their ideas. This behaviour not only threatens the safety of those targeted, it undermines the foundations of a free and democratic society.
Australia's universities are not-for-profit institutions working for the betterment of Australia's economy and society. Staff should not have to resort to requesting on-campus security escorts and upgrading their home security in order to undertake their work. Given the increase in the number and severity of personal threats, it is important that a systematic effort is made is investigate and combat them.
Australia's universities are a signatory to the International Association of Universities' policy document on academic freedom, Academic Freedom, University Autonomy and Social Responsibility (1998), which is based on the declarations made by UNESCO in 1950.
The Australian Government has itself further affirmed the importance of free intellectual inquiry in the provisions of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Demand Driven Funding System and Other Measures) Bill 2011. It is imperative that these provisions be endorsed by the Parliament.