Like many others I have read regular items in the local press over the last two years on the alleged problems at UWA concerning what is now called the Centre for Prehistory and on the circumstances in which Dr David Rindos was denied tenure. I have also seen postings on the internet on the affair, and overseas I have frequently been questioned about it. I know too that, behind the scenes, some of the most eminent people in the subject internationally have written to the university to express their disquiet at the stated reasons for Dr Rindos being denied tenure. Quite simply, most of those with whom I have spoken both here and overseas seem to take the view that the stated grounds for denial of tenure - with the consequent loss of career, professional reputation and liveliehood - were merely a pretext.
I do not know Dr Rindos well personally. However, since we first met 5 years ago to discuss shared academic interests, I have kept in touch with him. I formed a high opinion of his scholarly ability and was one of those who wrote to Senate two years ago in his support. I remain convinced that a great injustice has been done Dr Rindos and that his treatment represents a serious threat to academic freedom. At the same time I am concerned that the good name of the university, both nationally and internationally, has been gravely damaged. If the university has a case against Dr Rindos, the indications are that it has signally failed to communicate that. Quite the reverse - to the local press reports must now be added the major feature article last October in the The Weekend Australian and the editorial a few days later in The Australian.
Over the Christmas period I read the text of the speech delivered on 14 December 1995 in State Parliament by the Hon. Mark Nevill on what he calls the "archaeology affair". I was pleased to see this issue being treated with the utmost seriousness by someone of standing in the community. In retrospect, however, I have been deeply disturbed. I regard the righting of any injustice to Dr Rindos as of prime importance; on the other hand, I do not believe it is in the best long-term interests of the university that its autonomy be compromised through interference by the state parliament.
The community of scholars at UWA should be able to resolve this grave problem swiftly and transparently. I do not know how that is to be done. In this case, despite nearly 20 years teaching in universities, this affair is beyond my experience. It was not obvious even to whom I should address this letter. The Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor seem debarred since they appear to have closed their minds to the problem. What seems certain is that quite apart from the failure by the VC/ DVC to convince many in the academic community of the justice of what happened to Dr Rindos, the affair will plainly not go away. Indeed, it appears to be gaining momentum: the speech in State Parliament has been reported at length in The Australian; I understand sympathizers overseas have created a homepage on the World Wide Web exclusively for this Rindos affair; and I have heard rumours of a TV documentary in progress now that hundreds of documents have been tabled in State Parliament. Dr Rindos, himself, in recent conversations, is plainly increasingly optimistic and determined. As he said himself - if he had been deserving of what happened to him why did the university need to offer him a huge payment to take voluntary termination - and why would he have refused it?
Finally, the DVC, Professor Robson, is reported as saying the Rindos affair is a dead issue in the university. I know that to be untrue from my own experience and from coverage in successive issues of the samizdat "Rumpus", the very existence, content, and popularity of which is itself, in my opinion, a symptom of a disturbing malaise.
Dr David Kennedy