University of Sydney professor fights decision to end remote classes

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Nikolaos Tiliopoulos has been teaching at the University of Sydney for 16 years, but after a decision was made in September by the school to cease all remote class offerings, the psychology professor will be forced to resign.

Dr Tiliopoulos has a permanent autoimmune condition that requires consistent attention and specific life management.

It also means returning to in-person classes could lead to exposure to illnesses that could prove fatal.

With the support of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), Dr Tiliopoulos hopes to fight the school’s decision, to keep his job and his health.

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He says the University has a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act to make adjustments to allow him to work remotely.

A University of Sydney spokesperson responded to EducationDaily, “while we can’t comment on individual matters due to our strict privacy requirements, we take our obligations to comply with relevant disability discrimination legislation very seriously – including by providing reasonable adjustments to assist staff members with a disability to perform the inherent requirements of their role”.

“There are many cases across the university where these adjustments are in place, but employees are still required to perform the inherent requirements of their position,” they said.

“We consider that the best kind of learning is in person and while some courses are offered online, the bulk of our offerings are in person and in many cases the mode of delivery has implications for course accreditation.”

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In a conversation with EducationDaily, Dr Tiliopoulos said online learning can be just as effective as in-person.

“It was tested during the three years (2020-2022) the university had shifted to online lecture deliveries,” he says. “The flexibility, interactivity, and student reach, online teaching can offer – especially with the implementation of up-to-date technologies – are second to none. More importantly though, the quality of education is primarily conditional on the abilities and competence of the educator, not on the mode of delivery.”

During the Covid era, students of Sydney University’s undergraduate course PSYC-3015 gave Dr Tiliopoulos a 100 per cent satisfaction rating on the Unit of Study Surveys – all while learning from home.

“I can deliver the highest quality of education, even if I just have a stone to stand on in the middle of a field,” he says.

“That is because I truly care about my students and their education, and I am deeply passionate about my service as an academic.

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“I feel like the University could work with me and make my job work with and around my disability so I can keep educating my students and helping to guide their studies in Psychology.”

Professor claims lack of consultation and communication

Dr Tiliopoulos says he is frustrated with the University’s decision – claiming they had made little effort to consult with their employee of over a decade.

“The University still has not asked to talk with me about potential alternatives, still has not even had a discussion with me about how I could make a valuable contribution to the University and its students,” he told EducationDaily.

“I do not think I am being unreasonable to say that it is wrong and unfair to jump straight to trying to fire me without even talking to me first,” he says.

“The Provost, Professor Annamarie Jagose, has written this long letter justifying the University’s decision to fire me, but she has not even picked up the phone to talk with me, academic to academic. This is not what academia is about, and it should not be what the University of Sydney is about.”

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Michael R Williams has been writing for regional newspapers for the past 3 years, including delivering the Longreach Leader to its 100th year. He is passionate about the opportunity journalism offers him to interview and tell the stories of Australians with a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. He is an obsessive reader and podcast listener.