Tag Archives: Ann Capling

Former VC hits back at CCC report as Murdoch ship sinks even deeper

Murdoch University appears lost at sea in the face of a tidal wave of controversy. Disgraced former Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott has described the University Senate-based Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) report as naive and misleading. Meanwhile, Murdoch University continues to attract criticism for its handling of a damning report into the leadership of one of its senior Directors and for its interference in the promotion of a junior staff member, as new details emerge of current senior management not following due process and mishandling investigations, suggesting that little has improved at the troubled university.

In an opinion piece published in today’s Higher Education section of The Australian newspaper, Professor Higgott rejected the CCC’s findings of serious misconduct for the improper appointment of Professor Ann Capling, stating that he was not involved in Professor Capling’s appointment by the selection panel, a fact that he says was omitted in the report (in fact, it flatly contradicts what is said in the report).

Higgott also takes issue with the finding that he had a “close personal relationship” with Professor Capling,  arguing how such a relationship might be defined, why his prior declaration of knowing the candidate was not sufficient, and why the nature of his relationship with a person applying for such a senior appointment should be a factor anyway? He felt the same rationale applies to his appointment of Jon Baldwin.

On the matter of Jon Baldwin’s excessive severance payment, Professor Higgott passes the blame onto Karen Lamont, former Director of Human Resources, who had approved the deal as a way of ensuring a smooth exit for Baldwin and avoiding controversy around the matter. Higgott claims that if he knew he was breaching Senate regulations, he would have handled the matter differently. Ms Lamont resigned from the University in the wake of the fiasco, but her own actions are not fully documented in the CCC report, which is mostly focused on Higgott.

Finally, Professor Higgott sought to clarify that his viewing of adult content on his work laptop occurred after hours, away from the workplace (again, flatly contradicting the CCC report), and, in any event, was a matter that could have been dealt with internally. In fact, Higgott pondered why the matter required an external investigation at all, including referral to the CCC. He remarks, “The affairs of Murdoch raise an issue of why would a university senate choose to investigate its senior officer(s) via external and clandestine, forensic and legal means (with obvious attendant massive financial cost) and little consideration for the inevitable negative consequences for the university.”

Clearly, Higgott feels that he was set up by the Senate, although he restrains himself from squarely pointing the finger at Senate Chair and University Chancellor, David Flanagan, who spearheaded the investigation and whose troubled relationship with Higgott features prominently in the CCC report. (Incidentally Flanagan, who has been busy saving his iron ore company Atlas Iron from receivership, was this week appointed University Chancellor for another three-year term).

While attempting to exonerate himself from blame, Higgott displays an ambivalence, even contempt, towards University regulations, which is what landed him in trouble to start with. Western Australia’s state division secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), Gabe Gooding, has commented on the hypocrisy of Higgott’s behaviour and attitude, stating that Higgott and his deputy, Ann Capling, pursued certain senior staff at Murdoch University ruthlessly on the pretext of only minor breaches of the University’s code of conduct.

In what is likely to cause further turmoil at Murdoch University, Higgott casually remarked, after arguing that prior interaction with senior applicants  is “standard practice”, that the same process surrounding Ann Capling’s appointment also occurred “with all other senior appointments including the other deputy vice-chancellors, the deans and some professors.” The CCC report had noticeably omitted this matter from its report. The Deans, whose contracts will soon expire, may well be feeling nervous as a result of Higgott’s admission.

One wonders how much input the new Murdoch University Vice Chancellor, Eeva Leinonen, had in what got included in the final report and what got omitted (most likely, the evidence submitted to the CCC by the University Senate was already cherry-picked to begin with). An article in The Australian published on Monday noted that the release of the report, which was being held back by the CCC until it had conferred with Professor Leinonen, was “timed for it to garner as little media attention as possible — late on a Friday afternoon the day before a federal election.”

Meanwhile, criticism of Murdoch current senior management’s handling of the Paula Barrow matter continues. Senior management courted controversy by refusing to release the external report after an investigation into Ms Barrow’s leadership of the Marketing, Communications and Advancement Directorate, citing potentially defamatory material within the report as the main reason for not releasing it. Ms Barrow was an appointee under Higgott. It now turns out that the report also contains paraphrased excerpts from the informants who complained about Ms Barrow to the investigator.

Although aggrieved staff members are referred to anonymously in the report (as “Interviewee #1,” “Interviewee #2,” etc), they are in many cases identifiable by context and (it has been claimed) misquoted in some cases.  Given that Ms Barrow was given full access to the report, the question is why did senior management not take steps to redact the staff members’ comments from the report prior to providing her access?

Staff members involved are highly distressed about the matter. They feel they are working under a Director who is aware of who made the complaints directed against her, thanks to the failure of senior management to ensure confidentiality.

In further controversy, the Ombudsman has decided after almost eighteen months on the case not to take action in the matter of senior management’s alleged interference in the promotion application of a junior staff member. Apparently they were advised by Murdoch University Secretary Trudi McGlade that due process was followed in permitting a re-hearing of the application. However, this is disputed by the applicant who asserts that Professor David Morrison (another of Higgott’s appointees) was not provided with the full documentation by then HR Director Karen Lamont and, consequently, dismissed the application due to the missing information.

During the case, the Ombudsman appears to have been reluctant to get involved in the particulars of Murdoch’s promotion policy and procedure, and instead simply took University management at their word that the re-review was conducted above board. This is despite deliberate efforts by University management to avoid making records of the proceedings or permitting an independent observer to be present, despite protests from the NTEU. It is noteworthy that Ms McGlade was one of those accused of being party to the improper interference with the application to begin with, raising questions about a conflict of interest and whether the Ombudsman has been misled.

The suggestion that the Western Australian CCC and the Ombudsman are deferring to the advice of Murdoch University senior management and are being led – even misled – on various matters is concerning but not all that surprising, given those agencies’ ill-informed understanding of university affairs and their lack of resources (and/or interest) to investigate such matters themselves. Hopes that Murdoch University’s own Senate might continue to perform the role of watchdog, as it did in the case of Higgott, might also be under threat due to current initiatives by the Western Australian government to reduce the number of freely elected representatives to the Senate board, who the NTEU warns may in the future be fully appointed by senior management if the government gets its way.

As events at Murdoch University clearly show, more oversight rather than less is needed to ensure transparency and due process are followed. While new VC Eeva Leinonen has promised commitment to “integrity, respect and professional conduct” in the wake of the release of the CCC report, it will take more than aspirational statements to right the Murdoch ship.

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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 University’s Sergeant Schultz strategy of ‘I see nothing’ response to damning report

Murdoch University has a new vice chancellor, but its lack of transparency over investigations into management continues an old trend, and the troubled University does not seem to have yet found a recipe for avoiding controversy. An investigation into the management of the Marketing, Communications and Advancement Directorate (formerly known as the Development and Communications Directorate), conducted by INVision Investigations and Consulting, was apparently too defamatory to be published by senior management, who opted instead to release a summary of the key findings and a cursory outline of management’s response to its recommendations in an email to staff.

The investigation followed the lodging of a grievance by the Western Australian division of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) in 2015 against the Directorate’s manager, Paula Barrow. It was signed by 22 staff working within the Directorate. The Directorate includes the Media Crisis Management Team, which had the rather unenviable task of handling the public relations disaster that resulted from the resignations of former vice chancellor, Richard Higgott, and the Provost, Ann Capling, under allegations of bullying and the mishandling of appointments, expenses and university records.

Andrew Taggart, acting Vice Chancellor when the grievance was lodged and now Provost, has sought to water down the investigation’s findings. He remarked about Ms Barrow’s conduct: “engagement with staff was not her first priority in the early months of her tenure,” but that she has since begun communicating with staff more positively, including accepting guidance from an “external mentor”. He applauded her “commitment to Murdoch”.

As for criticisms of senior management’s handling of the matter, Andrew Taggart admitted to a “failure to provide new leadership” and that its “collective response was inadequate”, but stopped short of carrying out any disciplinary action. Instead, Andrew Taggart viewed the matter as an opportunity to “learn from this process and to create a more positive working environment for all parties”.

One staff member involved in lodging the grievance wrote to Campus Watch to express their profound disappointment with management’s response to the investigation, and was particularly critical of Andrew Taggart’s refusal to release the report. They commented:

“The university is refusing to release the report despite assurances at the outset that full disclosure would be allowed.  It was under this assurance that many people chose to participate in the investigation in thinking it would result in an open and honest process.”

They also expressed criticism of the new Vice Chancellor, Eeva Leinonen, for accepting that “a senior manager is required to undertake training and mentoring in order to perform a job she has now been in for more than 15 months and at an exceptionally high pay rate”, and for overlooking the conduct of other senior members of the university. The perception that senior management is fundamentally interested in protecting its own ranks rather than the welfare of staff was the overriding sentiment.

Meanwhile, questions still surround Andrew Taggart’s own involvement in the promotion fiasco reported earlier by Campus Watch, although it can be confirmed that the affected staff member did receive a fresh hearing of their promotion application, which was undertaken in 2004 by former Higgott appointee, Professor David Morrison, DVC of Research. Unfortunately it appears the Committee was not provided with the full documentation by Karen Lamont (who soon after resigned under controversial circumstances), and it was summarily dismissed by the Committee for failing to accord with new guidelines that, as it turns out, were not in place when the application was submitted in 2012 and which, at any rate, were addressed by the applicant in supplementary documentation that was withheld from the Committee.

The NTEU had earlier protested David Morrison’s involvement in the re-examination committee as constituting a potential bias, as he was privy to the dispute that had engulfed senior management in the lead-up to the re-examination, and he was also at the time a direct subordinate of Ann Capling, whose handling of the original application had been heavily criticised and University management was keen to defend.

The NTEU had also requested that an independent observer be present at the re-examination in light of management’s decision to prohibit any note-taking (former Provost Ann Capling had directed staff to avoid keeping records of proceedings after embarassing notes from the earlier examination that she chaired were leaked). Senior management rejected the NTEU’s protests, and permitted Professor Morrison to carry out the re-examination behind closed-doors to the frustration of the NTEU.

University management has denied any improper handling of the re-examination, but its defense of the way the re-examination was handled is under serious question, and so too are the events that led to the re-examination to be necessary, where so far the key perpetrators – allegedly including Andrew Taggart – have avoided disciplinary action. The matter appears to be far from over.

As for the Corruption and Crime Commission’s (CCC) investigation into the conduct of former management, not a peep has been heard. Nearly two years after the joint internal/CCC investigation was launched, no signs of the report are forthcoming, and the CCC has its lips firmly sealed on the matter, as does the University. There is a possibility that the final report will only be made available to senior University management, who are also sitting on the investigation report authored by KPMG that was submitted to the CCC in 2014. If so, the investigation might end up the same way as other investigations involving Murdoch University have turned out – the report being withheld for the purpose of protecting senior management from further embarrassment.

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Provost Ann Capling resigning from Murdoch University

In the wake of the scandal engulfing Murdoch University, which saw the suspension, then resignation, of the Vice Chancellor, Richard Higgott, in October last year, and then the resignation of Human Resources Director Karen Lamont at the end of March, Provost Ann Capling will be resigning from the University at the end of June.

In a short “FYI” statement today in the regular “Staff Announcements & Coming Events” notice, the University thanked Professor Capling for her service and revealed that she had accepted a position at the University of Melbourne.

The University of Melbourne is where Professor Capling was recruited by Professor Higgott in early 2012 to serve as Deputy Vice Chancellor of teaching at Murdoch University. Like Professor Higgott, she was a Professor of Political Science and had co-authored with Professor Higgott previously. For the next two years she oversaw reforms of Murdoch’s degree structure.

Her determined manner was admired by some, but viewed by others as abrasive. In late 2014 Professor Capling was accused of unspecified acts of misconduct as part of a raft of allegations levelled at senior management. The allegations against Professor Capling are believed  to include bullying and improper handling of university records.

Despite a staunch defence of Professor Capling by senior University Deans in November of last year, the writing was on the wall for the Provost when she was overlooked for the position of interim Vice Chancellor after Professor Higgott’s resignation. In what appeared to be a veiled exit strategy, Professor Capling took ‘research leave’ from her role as Provost earlier this year. The formal announcement of her resignation has come as little surprise to those following the events.


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Murdoch University Chancellor reveals allegations against senior staff

David Flanagan, Chancellor of Murdoch University, has provided a broad outline of the allegations against up to four senior officers of the University during a radio interview this morning with the ABC 720 (Perth).

Mr Flanagan says that the allegations relate to evidence of: misleading and deceiving the CCC (presumably by Professor Higgott, but Mr Flanagan would not say); significant conflicts of interest and a lack of proper process around key staff appointments; the destruction of documents under the State Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act; anomalies in relation to credit card use; evidence of excessive termination payments in relation to senior staff; and bullying of staff members.

He pointed out that this was not a full and comprehensive list, and at this stage, these allegations are based on the evidence gathered so far, and are not conclusively proven. He remarked that each allegation on its own passed the test of being “serious”, and that together they are “very serious”.

He noted that the University had to seek consent from the CCC on the grounds of public interest to speak publicly about these allegations.

Mr Flanagan revealed that the CCC had asked the previous Chancellor (Mr Terry Budge) on 12 December 2011 to look into a matter referred to it, which Mr Budge responded to. Then Mr Flanagan was himself approached on 29 January 2014 by the CCC in relation to certain matters and initiated an internal investigation. “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.”

Mr Flanagan said that investigation of those matters brought more serious issues to light. “But that ended up to being almost becoming a bit secondary, because while we were looking into those matters, we stumbled across a couple of others, which were new.”

The ‘internal’ investigation was carried out by Squire Patton Boggs, before being handed over to KPMG. By mid-September, Mr Flanagan submitted the findings from the investigations to the University Senate, which he chairs. The report was duly handed over to the CCC. The CCC decided to commence a formal investigation of the matters in collaboration with the University.

Mr Flanagan drew attention to the personal campaign against him, but emphasised that he had a legal responsibility to investigate the matters once he was requested by the CCC, and Senate had a legal responsibility to report the results of those investigations to the CCC. He also emphasised the importance of accountability in University matters, given that the institution is funded through tax-payers’ money and must uphold a reputation for its staff and students.

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Provost Capling under investigation as cracks widen at Murdoch University

Murdoch University has confirmed that Provost Ann Capling and other staff members are included in the probe being overseen by the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC).

Provost Capling is the second most senior officer at Murdoch University, having been elevated to her position by previous Vice Chancellor (VC) Richard Higgott. Professor Higgott resigned in October after becoming the centre of a CCC probe requested by Chancellor David Flanagan.

The allegations against Provost Capling have not been revealed, but a university spokesperson said that she was consulting legal advice and had taken leave to respond to a list of written allegations that have been put to her.

The University’s group of ten Deans came out in strong support of Provost Capling over one week ago in response to what it labelled “a scurrilous attack on our Provost Ann Capling reported in the press”. They were responding to an article in The Australian on October 29 that described a letter sent by 35 academics dubbed the “Murdoch Meta Management Group” (MMMG) to Chancellor Flanagan. The anonymous group had accused VC Higgott and Provost Capling of, amongst other things, being “arrogant, poor listeners who had systematically destroyed the collegiate culture of the university”.

In response, the Deans stated: “We remain enthused about the program of reform and rejuvenation at Murdoch, and feel that the leadership of Ann Capling is pivotal to the success of this process.” In a glowing reference that Provost Capling might consider including on her CV for her next job (which might be sooner rather than later), the Deans added, “We remain impressed and inspired by her leadership and her vision, and look forward to continuing to work with her in leading this institution into the future.”

In separate comments, Dean of the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs Benjamin Reilly labelled the MMMG as “cowards”. His school had been criticised by the group as the “VC’s hobby” despite “continued poor performance.”

The “unqualified support” by the group of Deans might yet backfire if Provost Capling is found to have engaged in misconduct, as it will raise the question of why they offered unqualified support without waiting for the outcome of the investigation first. Acting Vice Chancellor Andrew Taggart, who was given the care-taker role over more senior colleagues Provost Capling and Deputy Vice Chancellor David Morrison (both appointees of Professor Higgott), did not add his name to the list of supporters for the beleaguered Provost.

The battle lines appear to be forming.

In an opinion piece in The Australian a week ago, Professor Toby Miller confessed to being given one of the “jobs for the boys” by former VC Higgott. He defended the former Vice Chancellor as “a colleague who cared”, and explained away the allegations made by the MMMG as “basically critiques of corporate university life.” He also attacked the “arbitrary, clandestine manner in which the case has been dealt with.”

One might wonder how Professor Miller felt when VC Taggart asked Chancellor Flanagan to cancel an open meeting with staff last week, where the Chancellor had intended to field questions about the spiralling crisis. VC Taggart cited “legal issues involving the ongoing investigation into matters referred to the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC)” as the reason.

The cracks seem to be widening. We will keep you updated.

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New claims about former Murdoch VC

Apparently an anonymous group of Murdoch University staff members dubbed the “Murdoch Meta Management Group” raised concerns about Professor Richard Higgott’s credit card expenses, treatment of staff and poor management of the University. The claims were made in a letter sent by the Group to University Chancellor David Flanagan, a copy of which was obtained by The Australian.

The Group believed the University to be in “crisis”. Professor Higgott and Provost Ann Capling were described in the letter as “arrogant, poor listeners who had systematically destroyed the collegiate culture of the university” through using “bullying tactics”.

Professor Higgott’s big-spending ways were criticised by the group, with the former Vice Chancellor fond of “expensive flights, meals and hotels”. Professor Higgott was criticised for lack of transparency in appointments, particularly around “jobs for the boys”.

It is believed that these allegations are amongst those being investigated by the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC). However, it has emerged that a complaint was also made directly to the CCC by a third party about misconduct among senior University staff that preceded the Group’s letter and the current investigation.

More information as it comes to hand.

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Murdoch University suspend VC

Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott suspended

Murdoch University’s Vice Chancellor, Richard Higgott, has been suspended with full pay pending an investigation by the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC).

Murdoch University’s Chancellor, David Flanagan, who is the 2014 Western Australian of the Year, made the extraordinary announcement on Friday. The announcement stated: “The decision to suspend Professor Higgott was a unanimous resolution of the Murdoch University Senate.”

Pro Vice Chancellor Andrew Taggart has assumed duties as acting Vice Chancellor. Notably, Provost Ann Capling – who would normally be expected to assume these duties – was not asked by the Senate to take on the interim role, nor was Deputy Vice Chancellor David Morrison. Both Professor Capling and Professor Morrison were appointed in 2011 on Professor Higgott’s recommendation.

There were few details revealed about the nature of the allegations, other than to say that allegations of misconduct have been passed on to the CCC.  The Australian reports that some Murdoch University staff members are speculating that the allegations may concern favouritism in senior appointments. There has certainly been disquiet amongst some staff members at Murdoch University about University appointments and promotions since Professor Higgott’s appointment.

The Australian also reports that a spokesman for the university’s senate said “there was reasonable concern in relation to the conduct of the vice-chancellor in his dealings with the CCC”.  Campus Watch understands that there have been several complaints by staff about the lack of transparency in decision-making and record keeping by senior management.

More details as they come to hand.

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