COPIES (typography only changed) to The Chancellor, the ViceChancellor, members of UWA Senate
[home address deleted]
12 December 1996
I was astonished to read Michael Day's piece in Wednesday's West Australian attacking a man who had just died, and prejudging several issues which are still sub judice. The headline alone shrieks prejudice. How can Dr Rindos's death have any bearing whatsoever on whether this has been a 'sorry era' for UWA? The question of whether or not the University failed in its duty of care and responsibility to those who come to it as students is one not settled by his death.
If any department of the University falls short in upholding appropriate academic and moral standards (and they are closely linked) , then the University as a whole must be seen to have failed to institute and maintain continuing vigilance to ensure care in appointments, to guard intellectual freedom and honesty, and to prevent abuse of power. Two bodies, the parliamentary enquiry and an enquiry by the Senate of the University, are still investigating whether the University has failed in this duty of care. The issues are much wider than 'whistle-blowing' and allegations of sexual harassment, and are not affected one way or the other by the death of Dr Rindos.
Proper academic standards, including intellectual integrity and the ability to argue issues, are not encouraged in a department which makes it clear to its students that only one set of views is acceptable, and other views invite ridicule rather than seasoned rebuttal. I differ totally from Dr Rindos in my theoretical stance, but I would accept that his 'cultural evolutionist' views are a tenable option held by a large body of scholars, particularly in North America. Incidentally Dr Rindos's views were well publicised before he was invited to join the Department of Archaeology.
Appropriate moral standards should include a code similar to that which holds in the medical profession. Sexual relationships between university staff and students are as inappropriate as sexual relationships between a doctor and his patients. This has nothing to do with whether or not such relationships are 'consensual' or not. It has everything to do with whether they represent a less than proper use of power by a person who has a duty of care. Again, as in the medical analogy, the age of the person involved is not the issue. Lower standards can lead to a general perception that 'anything goes'; that it is wise to 'keep in' with those who hold academic and professional power, even by intellectual and social subservience.. [sic] If a University allows such a perception to prevail that is indeed a 'sorry' state of affairs. The question of whether this happened is not settled by the death of Dr David Rindos.
The statement that members of staff left because of the 'turmoil' and 'tension' in archaeology ignores the fact that the exodus began before Dr Rindos came as a replacement for one of those who had already fled! Dr Rindos was obsessed by his sense of injustice and his commitment to his discipline. These may be his weaknesses in his 'psychological makeup', but they are more honorable weaknesses than ruthless self-promotion and a lack of interest in intellectual issues. Dr Rindos remained totally fascinated by arcaheological controversies, even when his professional life was in disarray. He deserves a fairer treatment than your paper has given him.
The issues before the University must be kept separate from teh weaknesses or virtues of Dr Rindos. I am sure that the University community will wish to have the matters before the two enquiries thoroughly investigated, and will expect appropriate action to ensure that there is no doubt in anyone's mind that abuse of power is not to be tolerated in the University. Such investigation must not be impeded by the death of Dr Rindos.
Dept of Geography, UWA (09) 3802713