Biographical entry: Orr, Sydney Sparkes (1914 - 1966)



Sydney Sparkes Orr, philosopher, was appointed in 1954 as the University of Tasmania's Professor of Philosophy with the strong support of the Chancellor, Chief Justice Sir John Morris, and was instrumental in provoking considerable turmoil in the institution's history. It began with an Open Letter from Orr to the premier, published in the Mercury in October 1954 and advocating reforms in university administration. This led to a royal commission on university governance and the passing of a new University Act.

The University Council then set up a committee to examine four complaints against Orr. One alleged that Orr had seduced one of his female students, which he denied. The complaint was upheld and Orr was summarily dismissed in 1956. He sued the University in the Supreme Court for wrongful dismissal. That action was unsuccessful, as was his subsequent appeal to the High Court.

The legal proceedings and the resulting publicity galvanised public opinion, both within and outside the University, as well as overseas. There was some strong support for Orr, based on a belief that there had been a miscarriage of justice. There was also general dissatisfaction with the University's rigid attitudes to master and servant relationships and policies on academic tenure. These criticisms resulted in a formal ban on academic appointments by the Australian Association of Philosophers that lasted for ten years, and was joined by academics from other disciplines. Orr was never reinstated, but received an ex gratia payment from the University of £16,000. He always protested his innocence, and died in 1966.

Henry Finlay

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