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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