Date: Sun, 30 Jul 1995 16:05:44 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Hugh W. Jarvis" {}
To: Anthropology List {},
Archaeology List {}
Subject: Big win for academic freedom? (warning - lengthy post)

Over two years ago, I posted the story of how Dr. David Rindos was denied tenure and fired by the University of Western Australia. The University claimed that this was for academic reasons, that he had not been "productive" as a scholar. Given his scholarly contributions, this was described by me as an absurd action, one which has since precipitated world-wide condemnation of UWA. As you will recall, Rindos refused to take this nonsense sitting down. He fought back, taking his case through university channels, and when those were derailed, he turned to legal and government channels.

Last week, a major breakthrough occurred in the case. In what is being described in Australia as a "landmark decision," the Western Australian Freedom of Information Commissioner ruled that Rindos *must* be provided ALL internal decision-making documents related to his denial of tenure, documents which the University had earlier refused to supply to him. The Commission took this action on the grounds that no evidence existed for poor performance on his part -- a ruling that surely surprises no one who has followed even a portion of this case!

I report here on this decision because it gives us some hope that proper and internationally acceptable academic standards may finally be applied at the University of Western Australia, and, by implication, that there is some sense of justice alive in this war-torn and increasingly chaotic world we live in. As this mailing list makes abundantly clear, anthropologists all over the world are part of one community. As numerous posts over the past few months have also shown, damage occurring to our discipline in any one country is of concern to scholars in other countries. When academic standards are sacrificed and faculty defamed in an attempt to get rid of them, then we should be and, based on past history, indeed are all exceedingly concerned. Our concern becomes even greater when decisions are made, but only later justified, and in any very inconsistent ways, in a manner which leads many to suspect the covering-up of a scandal. In the case of archaeology at UWA, even if justice has been done, it has not been seen to be done.

Just over a year ago, I updated the anthropological community on various documents which had come to light about Rindos' case. These seemed to confirm previous suspicions that a successful campaign of defamation, rather than any fault in performance, had led to Dr. Rindos being fired. This campaign originated in the Archaeology Department, and apparently was a rather transparent response to his confidential reports, while acting as head of the Department, regarding the scandalous conditions existing in the department. These reports, which I noted, among others, led to a formal inquiry into the department. This inquiry identified serious problems including the victimisation of students, rewards being given for sexual favors, serious conflicts of interest, and denials of academic freedom. As I then wrote:

An article in Australia's leading newspaper, *The Australian,* quotes a Tasmanian scholar, Casandra Pybus, who recently wrote a book on the so-called "Orr Case" of the 1950's (which until now was likely the biggest academic scandal in Australian history). Dr. Pybus noted that she is "concerned that women who might be screaming for scalps if a heterosexual man was allegedly having serial relationships with female students are now very quiescent in this case where a female staff member was allegedly involved with female students."

Even more damning, confidential memoranda from members of the Archaeology Review Committee to high UWA administrators, including the Vice-Chancellor, have come to light since Dr. Rindos was fired. These memos warned the University about the serious sexual and professional problems in the Archaeology Department and were put in the strongest of terms imaginable:

"The allegations themselves are sufficiently grave, sufficiently numerous, sufficiently consistent and potentially sufficient damaging to the ideals and the reputation of this University . . . that there are sufficient grounds for concern to suggest that the allegations be investigated by a properly constituted body of enquiry."

"It was alleged that a number of graduate and undergraduate students had had sexual relations with a member of staff and that this had been followed by favoured treatment of some (for example, in terms of grants and jobs within the Department) and apparent victimisation of others (including public ridicule and denial of fair opportunity)."

"It was alleged that an environment had been fostered in which cynicism and ridicule were used to promote certain theoretic approaches and denigrate others, and that this stultified free academic exchange, damaged academic reputations and integrity, and ultimately severely retarded academic growth, particularly of some promising [PhD] students."

I also quoted memoranda from the time which showed that people were well-aware that plans were being made to get rid of Dr. Rindos long before any public reasons for doing so were even proposed. It seems clear that the decision came first, with the "reasons" being invented later.

"I am very worried that the situation has gone from bad to worse. . . . I am worried that the second review did not investigate in sufficient depth, the allegations mentioned in the first report. As far as I know, [and this will never cease to astound me!!] the second committee did not contact any members of the first review committee nor interview some of the key people involved. Thus it would not surprise me if they failed to obtain legally valid evidence to either confirm or deny the allegations. . . . very damaging activities are still being carried out. I do not believe that these will cease until much stronger action is taken."

"As convenor of the Archaeology Review Committee, it is clear to me that Dr. Rindos and others have received most unfortunate and unfair treatment at this university.. . . he and others appear to have been subjected to a concerted campaign of denigration that I believe few could have sustained. That he was able to be productive at all is clear testimony of his ability as an academic. . . . I believe this university could be guilty of a grave miscarriage of justice if it does not confirm Dr. Rindos in his tenured position."

In their replies, neither the chief archaeologist, Professor Sandra Bowdler, nor the University's top administrators denied the truth of any of these claims. They also could not provide any evidence of poor performance on the part of Dr. Rindos -- something which comes as no surprise to anybody having familiarity with the literature in our field.

Thus, it seemed abundantly clear, even at that point in time, that the campaign of defamation waged against Dr. Rindos must have been just another (apparently quite typical) example of the extremely unethical and unprofessional behavior characterising the now-defunct Archaeology Department at the University of Western Australia. That it could have succeeded, especially in the face of clear and totally unambiguous warnings and calls for action from an official University Review Committee, is astonishing (to put it mildly).

Hence, and recalling that the University of Western Australia has consistently attempted to claim that Dr. Rindos was fired for purely academic reasons, it is absolutely fascinating to read the new Freedom of Information Commission Ruling regarding the EVIDENCE for his alleged poor performance. (In what follows, Rindos is the complainant", while the University is the "agency.")

"My preliminary view [of this case] was based, in a large part, on information from the agency that the complainant was made aware of the concerns about his performance and given the opportunity to improve and that he had been fully informed of the reasons for refusal of his tenure, by various means including counseling as to his performance. The complainant disputes the fact that he has been counseled . . . [and] claimed that he had not been provided with either oral discussions nor written evaluations . . .

"The agency was unable to provide me with any documents recording the nature and extent of any 'counseling,' as I understand that term, provided to the complainant during the period covered by the documents in dispute. I would expect to find such documents in existence if the agency's practices were as I was led to believe them to be. The correspondence between the agency and the complainant does not, in general, reflect any discussions with, or guidance of, the complainant in relation to his performance, NOR DOES IT EVIDENCE ANY CONCERNS OFFICIALLY HELD BY THE AGENCY REGARDING THE COMPLAINANT'S ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, nor is there any suggestion or explanation of any methods by which the complainant could improve his performance so as to address the issues of concern to the agency. The agency submitted that much of the counseling was verbal and was not recorded or evidenced in documentary form....

"I was not provided with any evidence to enable me to resolve the differences that appear to exist between the SWORN EVIDENCE of the complainant and the CLAIMS [unsworn] of the agency . . . Therefore, it is my view, based on the material before me, that the public interest in a member of the staff of an agency being fully informed of the nature of the adverse comments against that person, and being given the opportunity to answer them, outweigh the public interest in ensuring the integrity of the deliberative processes of the agency in this instance. I have reached that conclusion taking into account the academic standing of the complainant with some of his colleagues and the impact on his professional affairs of denying him tenure. In my view, A DENIAL OF TENURE HAS NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE AND REQUIRES THAT THE AGENCY'S PROCEDURES LEADING UP TO THAT DECISION BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND SCRUTINY IN DETAIL." [EMPHASES added]

Put simply, there is *nothing* in the university files to indicate *any* official concerns with Dr. Rindos' academic performance. Yet, the University keeps claiming, at least publicly, that he was denied tenure and fired on academic grounds! It seems obvious that the public claims are merely a smoke-screen being used to divert attention from the true facts of his victimisation and firing for totally non-academic, and likely defamation-based reasons.

The Ruling also made a number of other points of relevance to Rindos' treatment at the hands of the University of Western Australia.

First, it held that two documents (which had been "leaked" to him and were therefore not under dispute) IN FACT contained real reasons why he was denied tenure. These tenure reviews, written by a person who described himself as a close personal friend of Professor Bowdler, said that tenure should be denied because Rindos had not accepted Professor Bowdler's authority he had "destabilised" archaeology at the University by making the problems in the department known.

Going even further, these released documents tried to claim that the campaign of defamation against Dr. Rindos was his own fault -- this for carrying out his appointed job as chair properly by reporting the apparent victimization of students!

Interestingly, the Ruling refused to supply Dr. Rindos any documents recording University attempts to deal with the problems which had been uncovered in archaeology. The reason for this avoidance is telling:

"They deal with particular problems identified in the Department of archaeology and they contain sensitive personal information, including serious allegations about a party other than the complainant."
Hence, the Ruling appears to clear him of any guilt whatsoever in the problems which had been uncovered and indicates that those rumours which have been pivately circulated about improper behavior on the part of Dr. Rindos are malicious. The first review held that Dr. rindos had acted properly in his position, and we now know that the second review also had nothing negative to report about him either.

This clearing of his name, again, evokes no surprise at all to those who know him. After all, "coincidentally," all his problems started when he became aware of grave harm being done to students and acted to set things right.

Second, the Ruling said that the University had publicly misrepresented statements made by the Freedom of Information Commissioner about the case, even before the ruling was delivered. When the Vice-Chancellor was informed of HER improper action, she said she would hold an inquiry, take disciplinary action, and report back to the Commissioner. This was never done.

Third, the Commissioner stated "The complaint's assertions directly contradicted certain information I had received from the agency . . . As a result, I put a series of questions to both . . . Although I required both parties to provide their answers in the form of statutory declarations [sworn statements], the answers provided me by the agency were not in that form." Under the terms of the Western Australian Freedom of Information Act, the University of Western Australia may have committed a crime by not being willing to swear to the truthfulness of their answers to the commission. I imagine we might well be hearing more about this development!

But for now, I think it is safe to say that some glimmer of hope exists that Dave Rindos, after a harrowing three and one-half years might soon be able to finally clear his name and return to what we would deem more "traditional" academic pursuits of teaching and research (i.e. no more legal, political, and bureaucratic battles).

This would not only be a win for him, and for the sake of legitimate archaeology at UWA, but, far more importantly, it would return a major victory for the most fundamental and cherished principles of academia itself -- free, truthful, and open procedures which consider academic concerns and academic concerns alone.

I would like to suggest that the readers of this list to write the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Western Australia urging her now to set right that which has gone so terribly wrong. In the same way in which we have been able to influence the outcome of recent Federal actions by the US government, I believe we might even be able to have some small effect on the administration of the University of Western Australia to improve their academic standards. You might wish to copy any such notes to Dr. Rindos at his e-mail address:

--------------------------------------------------------------------- Hugh