Tag Archives: Richard Higgott

$1 million spending spree by former Murdoch senior managers

The Australian newspaper has gained access to the Ernst & Young report into the credit card use by former Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott, revealing that Professor Higgott and his three deputies claimed almost AU$1 million over a two-year period. This amount included an average of $1,800 spent by Higgott per month on private chauffeured vehicles.

The expenditure is somewhat ironic given Professor Higgott’s remarks to The Australian newspaper in July last year. Higgott criticised the University Senate for conducting an internal investigation into his activities “with obvious attendant massive financial cost”.

In a separate report released last year, the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC), which assisted the internal investigation carried out by the Murdoch University Senate, did not form an opinion on whether Professor Higgott’s credit card expenditure constituted misconduct. It did pointedly remark, however, that Murdoch Universities’ policies on corporate credit card use were “lax”.  The investigation into credit card use by senior Murdoch University management was part of a broader investigation into allegations of misconduct against senior officers. Professor Higgott “retired” in October 2014 following the investigation.

The latest report is amongst documents held by Murdoch University’s Senate that were not made public. The Australian reports that Murdoch University had initially refused to release the report in a Freedom of Information application, but the newspaper was successful in appealing the decision to the Western Australian Information Commission. The newspaper successfully argued that the information was in the public interest, given that Murdoch University receives funding with taxpayer’s money.

Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union is trying to get access to information about current legal expenditure by Murdoch University. Murdoch University has hired attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw, based in the eastern states, to assist in prosecuting its case to the Fair Work Commission to have the Enterprise Agreement terminated. It is also prosecuting the NTEU and two senior officers of the WA State office in the Federal Court for allegedly misrepresenting the University in communications with members, which the NTEU denies.

Senior management has claimed that its application to terminate the Enterprise Agreement is due to the need to renegotiate a new agreement that will enable the University to reduce costs and achieve financial sustainability. The NTEU has criticised the measures proposed by the University in the new Enterprise Agreement as removing important rights and protections for workers.


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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 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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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 VC resigns amid investigation of misconduct

Murdoch University’s Vice Chancellor, Richard Higgott, yesterday formally resigned. “It is the right time for me to retire,” Professor Higgott is quoted by the University as saying in a University media statement.  “At 65 I have other activities I wish to pursue, including a large writing programme.”

There was no mention of the controversy that pushed him to resign. However, in an email to University staff, University Chancellor David Flanagan remarked that the past few weeks “have been a difficult time for the University,” referring to “the unfortunate but necessary need to refer matters to the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission.” Commenting on Professor Higgott’s resignation, he  acknowledged “the valuable contribution Professor Higgott has made to Murdoch”, and noted the ongoing commitment of the University to move forward with Higgott’s vision to be “a globally recognised research lead institution.”

As to the allegations that were directed at Professor Higgott, these remain a mystery. The CCC today announced that it will be commencing a formal investigation into the allegations.


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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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