Category Archives: dismissals

CCC report on former Murdoch University VC released

After almost two years since a Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC)-backed investigation commenced into allegations of misconduct against former Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott, the CCC report has been released. Professor Higgott was found to have engaged in one instance of serious misconduct and two instances of lesser misconduct.

The released details read like a Mills and Boon novel, referring to endearing email letters between Higgott (aka, “My Dearest Higgy”) and Provost Ann Capling (aka, “Capling my luv”), betrayal between  Higgott and Murdoch University Chancellor David Flanagan, and climaxing with a dose of steamy sexual smut in the form of Higgott’s downloading habits of adult material.

The CCC found that Professor Higgott engaged in serious misconduct by effectively rigging the appointment process surrounding the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) position awarded to Ann Capling, and in less serious misconduct in misleading Flanagan and the CCC over the appointment and dismissal of DVC Jon Baldwin and for downloading adult material (and subsequently trying to scrub it) in breach of University internet use policy. Matters noted by the CCC but not addressed in its findings were allegations around credit card misuse by Professor Higgott and the destruction of documents.

The CCC states early in the report that “although this report details the conduct of one person, there are wider lessons of governance for universities in Western Australia.” However, while the CCC report emphasises the need for more diligence concerning credit card use, recruitment and communication between University Senate and Management, much of the wider implications of the findings are lost in the melodrama surrounding the juicy details of Higgott’s deceit.

His deceit not only involved misleading Chancellor Flanagan on various matters, in particular the dismissal of Deputy Vice Chancellor Jon Baldwin, but also misleading Sir Nigel Thrift, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick, surrounding the poaching of Jon Baldwin initially. Higgott, who remains Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick and has reportedly been based there since his controversial departure from Murdoch University, may well encounter some raised eyebrows around its campus following release of the CCC’s report.

What the CCC report fails to do is reveal details about other matters that occurred during Higgott’s tenure, including the conduct of Ann Capling and Karen Lamont (since resigned) who feature prominently in the report, but more as background characters implicated in the web of deceit spun by Higgott. Questions about the appointment of other senior officers at Murdoch University during Higgott’s tenure, including the Deans that administer the Schools within the University, were not dealt with in the report. There is also no indication of what further action (if any) would be taken, with the CCC seemingly satisfied with Higgott’s dismissal from Murdoch University (which occurred in September 2014) and assurances by current management that its policies have been reviewed and revised in the interim.

Suspicion that the CCC investigation would seek to be little more than a scapegoating exercise designed to dismiss what is but one of many failings in Murdoch University’s chequered  management history might only harden with the release of the report. Clearly, the CCC report has chosen to focus on only a few matters and only one individual among those initially referred to it by Chancellor Flanagan. Unfortunately the more extant matters covered in the Price Waterhouse & Cooper and KPMG reports submitted to Chancellor Flanagan and which formed the basis for the CCC’s findings are unlikely to see the light of day.

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Murdoch Uni still embroiled in controversy

As Murdoch University (Perth, Australia) seeks to appoint a new Vice Chancellor after the resignation of Richard Higgott in October 2014 on allegations of misconduct, the university finds itself unable to extricate itself from ongoing controversy.

The Western Australian branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has announced an external investigation into bullying complaints against the University. Additionally, revelations emerged this week of a complaint against acting Vice Chancellor Andrew Taggart and senior staff members in the former School of Social Sciences and Humanities under Taggart’s supervision.

Taggart is named amongst a trio of senior staff members accused of colluding to undermine the promotion application of a junior academic staff member in 2011-2012. One conspirator, Helena Grehan (now Associate Dean Research in the School of Arts), is alleged to have made misleading claims about the applicant to members of the promotion committee and to Andrew Webster, the dean of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. Webster then urged Taggart not to support the junior staff member’s promotion in 2011, which Taggart appears to have gone along with.

The trio are accused of thwarting a second attempt by the junior staff member to apply for promotion the following year. The Appeals Committee initially ruled that Taggart and Webster’s reports on the applicant were unsatisfactory and that the application should be reexamined. But questioning of the Committee’s recommendation by Brendan Cusack (Manager of Equal Opportunity and Industrial Relations) and Trudi McGlade (Director of Governance and University Secretary) resulted in the Appeals Committee controversially reversing the decision.

Evidence obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) also uncovered promotion committee notes that indicated further misleading comments were made by Grehan about the applicant at the lecture promotion committee meeting held in November 2012. Provost Ann Capling, who was chair of that committee, rued the exposure of the notes and proposed that in the future they should be destroyed shortly after meetings, seemingly contravening legal requirements for the university to retain promotion notes for several years. Capling was also accused of selectively withholding documents requested under the FOI application, including the very documents in which she made the remarks, although Capling claims to have previously deleted them to save server space.

The matter ended up with the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) after Higgott refused to act on the complaint and suggested the complainant had the option of taking the matter to the Ombudsman. In late 2013 the complainant did just that, but due to the possibility that some of management’s actions might be forms of misconduct, the Ombudsman referred the complainant to the CCC (some aspects of the case not followed up by the CCC have since been referred back to the Ombudsman).

It is not clear if the case was related to the events that followed (as the CCC process is shrouded in secrecy), but it appears that the CCC became aware of a number allegations against senior management around this time. David Flanagan, Murdoch University Chancellor (and Managing Director of struggling iron ore company Atlas Iron), has reported that he was contacted by the CCC in January 2014 to look into allegations against senior management. Flanagan later told a Perth radio station: “We went in looking at matters that the CCC asked us to, which I was expecting to be completely resolved. They weren’t.  So they were genuine matters which needed to be addressed.”

Unrelated to the case, Flanagan received a petition from a group dubbed the “Murdoch Meta Management Group”, an anonymous group of 35 university staff members disillusioned with the management style of the senior leadership, which led Flanagan to extend his investigation to broader allegations. Flanagan has said that the initial matters “ended up becoming a bit secondary, because while we were looking into those matters, we stumbled across a couple of others, which were new.”

Flanagan has revealed that his investigation, undertaken initially by Price Waterhouse & Cooper before taken over by KPMG, uncovered serious problems among senior management related to rigging appointments, mishandling university records, mismanagement of university expenses, bullying, excessive redundancy packages, and misleading the CCC. Critics of Flanagan have suggested that there was a clash of personalities between Higgott and himself, and that Flanagan was trying to find a way to remove Higgott. Flanagan stated that he felt he had a good working relationship with Higgott and supported his strategy for the university, but the CCC’s request to look into certain matters gave him little alternative other than to carry out an internal investigation.

By September 2014 the writing was on the wall for Higgott. He was suspended by the University Senate (chaired by Flanagan) pending the outcome of the investigation into his activities as well as three other senior staff members, thought to include Provost Ann Capling and Human Resources Director Karen Lamont (nee Cooper). Higgott resigned in October, followed by Lamont and Capling in the following months. Andrew Taggart was chosen to serve as interim Vice Chancellor.

Despite the departure of the core senior leadership group, it appears that the interim management under Taggart has done very little to address the culture of bullying and questionable conduct by senior officers at the university. The WA office of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) announced last week an investigation into alleged bullying and staff mismanagement within the Development and Communications directorate at Murdoch University. The external investigation follows senior management’s alleged inaction in dealing with several complaints. Murdoch NTEU branch president Anne Price said that “some quarters” within Murdoch University management have downplayed the significance of the complaints and hindered redressing the problems.

Meanwhile, the CCC’s investigation into the allegations against former management has not yet been concluded, but a report is believed to be due within the next few months.  The appointment of a new Vice Chancellor, which is expected to be finalised in December, cannot come soon enough for the university.

Apart from a strategy to deal with the university’s deepening financial woes, the new Vice Chancellor will want to act decisively to clean up the university’s troubled management culture in order to avoid ongoing controversy. By the sound of it, the incoming Vice Chancellor will have their work cut out for them.

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UCLA astronomer resigns after allegations of sexual harassment

University of California (UCLA) professor of astronomy, Geoffrey Marcy, has resigned after a six-month investigation found he had sexually harassed up to four students. Details of the investigation have not been released, but UCLA’s Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele called Marcy’s behaviour “contemptible and inexcusable” and extended their sympathies to the victims. The allegations are thought to have included uninvited massages and other unwanted attention.

UCLA’s management had earlier been criticised for not dismissing Marcy in the wake of the investigation, instead choosing to an agreement with the Vice Provost for Faculty Janet Broughton that placed restrictions on Marcy’s interaction with students. This week, 25 members of Berkeley’s astronomy department issued a letter saying that Marcy was no longer fit “to perform the functions of a faculty member.”

In an open letter posted on his Stanford website, Marcy apologised for his behaviour and expressed his desire to improve his behaviour. The American Astronomical Society is considering expelling Marcy as a member.

UCLA has convened a committee of administrators, faculty and students to review how complaints against tenured faculty are handled. Its recommendations will be made by 29th February 2016.

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Stanford Dean of Business to step down in love triangle conflict of interest

Garth Saloner will step down from his position as dean of Stanford’s prestigious Graduate School of Business (GSB) at the end of 2015. Although the school has prospered under his leadership to become the top ranked management school in the world, he has found himself at the centre of a scandal centering on a love triangle of sorts.

Saloner is under scrutiny for his role in the dismissal of colleague James Phills in a potential conflict of interest case. When Phills was sacked, Saloner was having an affair at the time with Phills’ estranged wife, Deborah Gruenfeld, who also teaches at GSB. Although the reason cited was the excessive leave undertaken by Phills at Apple Inc, Phills lodged a discrimination lawsuit against Saloner and the university in 2014.

Aware that the matter was going to be revealed on Poets & Quants, a business school news website, Saloner sought to head off the scandal by announcing his resignation as dean.  In a statement released on 14th September 2015, Saloner said the he did want to see “a baseless and protracted lawsuit related to a contentious divorce between a current and former member of our faculty” to harm the school’s reputation.

This followed on the heels of complaints by GSB staff against Saloner for promoting a hostile culture within the school characterised by personal agendas, favoritism and fear, including alleged discrimination against women and older employees, to which the wider Stanford management are said to have turned a blind eye. It is said that 46 current and former members of the GSB urged the university provost not to re-appoint him as dean.

It is still to be determined what part Saloner played in Phills’ dismissal. It is known that he informed the Stanford Provost John Etchemendy of his relationship with Gruenfeld prior to the departure of Phills. The matter is pending in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose. One piece of evidence being used by Phills is a Facebook exchange between Gruenfeld and Saloner that he accessed through his ex-wife’s account:

Gruenfeld: “[W]hat did Etch[emendy] say exactly?…”

Saloner: “He basically ignored what I said about the two of us and, not in these words, that he trusts me to make any decisions regarding Jim [Phills].”

The “decisions” appear to have concerned Saloner’s increasing time spent on leave teaching management at Apple Inc. But it appears that Phills’ leave was a symptom of a state of limbo after being sidelined by Saloner from overseeing the GSB’s executive training program in The Center for Social Innovation. Following Phills and Gruenfeld’s separation, GSB’s senior assistant dean suggested Phills sell his home to repay about $750,000 that Stanford had lent the couple years earlier on the basis that Gruenfeld was no longer living with him.

In a written statement, Standford says Saloner properly recused himself from decision-making and that the university terminated Phills this year because he chose not to return from leave. It claims that Phills was treated “fairly and equitably.”

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University of Illinois in free-speech controversy

Earlier this year Dr Steven Salaita was packing his bags for Illinois after accepting a tenured position in the University of Illinois. He was all set to teach in the American Indian studies program, when he was told that his appointment had been rescinded by the Chancellor. The reason? The University was concerned by tweets made by Dr Salaita critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. The result, according to Dr Salaita in an op-ed written last week for The Chicago Tribune, is the University ruined his career.

Steven Salaita
Dr Steven Salaita – not appointed after political tweets

Dr Salaita secured the position after a rigorous application process, and had already resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Tech. He then received a letter from University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise advising him that his appointment had not been approved by the University’s Board of Trustees, which apparently has final say over university appointments, but normally defers to the faculty decision. In his case, however, Dr Wise would not recommend to the Board that he be appointed.

In his tweets and retweets, Dr Salaita condemned Israel’s actions against Palestinians. The Chancellor viewed Dr Salaita’s comments as hate speech.

In an open letter sent to the University faculty in August, Dr Wise claimed to stand by academic freedom, but defended the decision on the basis that it must draw the line at “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” However, the offending tweets that University management pointed to as unacceptable, such as “Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being” did not appear to justify the University’s stance.

Freedom of Information documents indicate that the Chancellor took the decision after receiving complaints about Dr Salaita’s appointment from pro-Jewish students and donors.

The University of Illinois, and Dr Wise in particular, have drawn strong criticism by academics and defenders of free speech over the decision, including the Faculty that sought to appoint Dr Wise. It appears the matter is heading for the courts, with Dr Wise’s lawyers threatening legal action.

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Chinese University sack Professor for speaking out against government

Dr Xuezhong sacked for political comments
Dr Xuezhong: sacked for political comments

Law professor Zhang Xuezhong was sacked on Monday by the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai for expressing critical comments of the Chinese government.

Professor Xuezhong expressed his opposition to one-party rule in an online book titled “New Common Sense”, and was critical of President Xi Jinping in a paper titled “The Origin and the Perils of the Anti-constitutionalism Campaign of 2013.”

Xuezhong’s sacking follows the dismissal of Peking University economist Xia Yeliang in October for advocating democratic legal reforms in an online blog.

It is unclear whether the universities are acting independently or under the direction of State officials.

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