(My appologies to any who receive this twice!!)
Since June 1993 [!] I have been posting occassional updates on the events which occurred in Archaeology at the University of Western Australia. In brief, the story began when Dave Rindos was denied tenure after reporting, when he was acting as Head of Department, serious problems with the treatment of students in the Department. A departmental review was held by the University and it found that conditions in the department were scandalous beyond belief. In its recommendations the Committee called for strong action to rectify the problems. However, for reasons which are still unclear, the problems were never properly addressed by the University and instead of justice being done, Dr Rindos was fired on the clearly contrived ground that he did not "come up to the high academic standards of UWA."
While those of us familiar with the Australian scene have long been aware of the rumours regarding conditions in Perth, and while a number of Australians have been more than happy to speak privately about what they knew, thus far the story has been pretty kept pretty much out of the public arena. All of this has now changed because of a speech given in the West Australian Parliament by the Hon Mark Nevill who spoke at length about the "very serious situation" regarding the "archaeology affair at the University of Western Australia" (Hansard 24, 1995, pp. 13192-13203).
Following the speech, leave was sought and obtained, to table documents. Over 300 folios were thereby entered into the public record, most of which are letters sent to the University documenting the scandalous conditions which existed in the archaeology department. The charges included sexual and academic victimization of students, serious interference with academic freedom, and the total subversion of normal procedures of academic evaluation.
Given the length of this speech (it went on for an hour), I certainly will NOT be including it here (the full text will be available in the near future at a Web Site which is now nearing completion). But to give you an idea of its contents, here are a few selected quotations from the speech. They are followed by a brief update on the Rindos case.
The [archaeology] affair at the University of Western Australia involves the exploitation of students in that department. There is also the sexual exploitation of students. I believe the University has abrogated its duty of care to the students . . . some of whom have been forced to leave . . . and complete their studies overseas. The treatment of Dr David Rindos has been appalling. . . . The behaviour of Professor Sandra Bowdler and her group of followers has been appalling also.
The result of this affair is that UWA and the university community in general have failed to provide a credible and viable archaeology discipline. . . . With issues such as Mabo and economic developmentit is essential that we havea functioning archaeology unit in Western Australia which has respect and credibility and which turns out competent graduates. . . . We have a vast amount of archaeological information in this State, the surface of which has hardly been scratched. We do not have a viable, credible archaeology faculty in this State. I believe UWA has badly let down Western Australia.
My frustration . . has resulted in my writing a letter to the Standing Committee on Government Agencies to try to interest it in examining some of the matters associated with this archaeology affair. . . . I gave evidence to the committee. The issue is in the committee's hands . . . . The matter should be put in the public arena. . . . Universities should be autonomous but at the same time they should be accountable. . . . we have an obligation to ensure that the university is properly managed and complies with any state legislative requirements.
[He then turns to a history of the case starting with Rindos' arrival, his discovery of problems, and his early reports to his supervisors. He describes the results of the 1991 Archeology Review before turning to the devastating evidence presented to the Vice-Chancellor in formal letters of complaint (thereby also putting the lie to the oft-repeated claim by the University that "no formal complaints had been received").]
One female studying Prehistory 200 wrote: "During a field trip, Professor Bowdler made sexual advances towards me. Being immature and flatter I became involved in a sexual relationship. . . within a month I realised the predicament I had placed myself in, but feared that if I left Professor Bowdler she would somehow destroy my career. I believe that over the past three years she has attempted to do this. In 1988 I was forced to leave my family and friends to get away from [her]."
Another letter states: "Prof. Bowdler . . . appears to treat at least some students as a potential sexual resource"
[...more testimony . . . ]
Another student stated: "Professor Bowdler is a predator who preys on young female students. It is an absolute disgrace that the University of Western Australia employed such a person as well as allowing such blatant power abuse to persist for nearly a decade."
The majority of these statements have been made by female students . . .
[. . . more testimony . . .]
The Vice Chancellor, Professor Gale, in discussions with me quite flippantly dismissed as consensual the succession of affairs with undergraduate students indulged in by Professor Bowdler. . . .
I am shocked that the vice chancellor believes that such power contaminated relationships can be so easily dismissed as consensual . . . to condone such behaviour is to blame the student victims. The vice chancellor's attitude is unacceptable. . . . She owes an apology to all feminists who hold that gender is no excuse for improper behaviour, and she owes an apology to the many students who have been sexually or otherwise victimised at the hands of a professor who is still in her employ.
[. . . many quotes providing examples . . . ]
In that department there was certainly intellectual oppression. There was also a lack of due process. The review committee found that Professor Bowdler and her followers had instituted a reign of intellectual oppression, encouraging and participating int he public ridicule of students whose opinions were found to be politically or otherwise unacceptable to them. . . .
Decisions relating to the allocation of academic and intellectual resources were often made to serve non-academic ends, and the processes of administration became subverted to the ends of harassment and abuse . . .
[... many quotes providing examples removed here. . . ]
Those campaigns of abuse and victimisation obviously succeeded in creating an atmosphere of fear. The review committee wrote: "A number of staff and students who made depositions to our committee expressed fear of retribution and indicated that other ex students would have made depositions if they could have been assured of protection."
The fears of those students were well placed as was sadly admitted one year later by the convenor of the committee, Professor Bruce, who wrote in a public letter
". . . students put their faith in our committee in the hope that the major problems within . . . archaeology would be resolved. They now believe, with justification, that their faith was, to a large extent, misplaced . . . deliberately damaging activities . . ." described to the committee during the review process -- "are still being indulged by members of the original department. . . .I believe this University must do more to stop such travesties of academic behaviour."
[. . . more testimony and evidence . . . ]
I now refer to the defamation campaign that was launched against Dr Rindos. Members of archaeology, most likely in reaction both to complaints which had led to the review committee, and the protection that was given Dr Rindos and other students, retaliated with what was turn into a prolonged and ultimately successful attack on him. Professor Bowdler claimed that the problems uncovered during the review of archaeology were the fault of Dr Rindos. She claimed that no problems ever existed and that Dr Rindos invented a directed a campaign against her -- that she was the actual victim. That was quite a turnaround.
A copy of Professor Rindos' [sic=Bowdler's] complaint about the review committee was eventually forwarded to its members. The review committee pointed out that all problems predated Dr Rindos' arrival. The review committee repudiated Professor Bowdler's allegation that Dr Rindos was in any way incompetent or that he had created any campaign against her. I would like to discover why the university chose to believe Dr Bowdler, whose self interest in this matter is obvious, rather than the objective judgment of the properly constituted review committee. There seems to be a fatal flaw in the university's decision making processes.
[He then provides a summary of the events involved in denying Rindos tenure]
In her letter of sacking of June 1993, Vice Chancellor Gale provided additional reasons for dismissing him. Her personal reason for sacking him was that Dr Rindos had been unable to get along with Professor Bowdler. Dr Rindos, after being the first person to stand up to the culture of corruption in archaeology, also became the first person ever to be denied tenure at UWA. I believe that this Parliament has a responsibility to ensure that the legislation that it has created is effective complied with. This is a major scandal and has done immense damage to our State. The hierarchy of UWA has turned a blind eye to the fact that the problem is ongoing. If we can do anything to undo the damage already done, we should do it. The Minister for Education said last year that he was powerless to obtain answers to questions put to him regarding improper behaviour at the University of Western Australia despite the fact that it is a government agency. I believe it is important that this whole coverup be exposed and the fraudulent attack on the good name of Dr Rindos be also exposed. He has been set up as a scapegoat for the problems of archaeology and his denial of tenure is the ultimate insult.
In a recent press report in The Australian newspaper, top UWA administrators responded to Mr Nevill's speech by saying that they knew all about what had been going on, complaining that his speech was "scurrilious" and "one-sided" and that Mr Nevill had offered "nothing new." Apparently all of the events reported upon in the speech were well known and caused little or no concern.
The UWA also made clear that they apparently had no major problem with the standards of academic and sexual behavior in the archaeology department and "did not plan to take any action" regarding the conditions which had been made public in the speech. Hence, the University is sending out a clear message regarding what constitutes acceptable behavior in student/teacher relationships and the treatment of students at the University of Western Australia.
Regarding Dave Rindos, UWA once again stated that if Dr Rindos had problems with his dismissal, then he should take his case to the Visitor. This particular appeal, based in an English tradition, was a major focus of the newspaper article referred to here. Entitled "Missing file leaves Rindos in Limbo" it reports how the university has somehow managed to "misplace" Rindos' Personnel File, and how it went missing many months ago (oddly, its disappearance was discovered when Rindos asked to view it!).
I guess you won't be too surprised to find out that this particular file contains evidence Dave needs to finalise his appeal to the Visitor, and until it is found, his appeal is at a total stand-still. One would think that UWA could come up with a better excuse -- perhaps something like "the dog ate it" ??
That ANY university could condone the behavor reported upon in the Parliamentary speech by its staff is totally unbelievable. That they would choose to protect the guilty and allow the careers of innocent people, including students, to be destroyed, quite frankly, sickens me.
UWA has long sought an international reputation. It certainly has one now!!
Still somewhat numbed,
PS: A subsequent post will contain a press release sent to me by the UWA Vice-Chancellor's Office. Comments came with it, but I am still awaiting clarification of their (often rather strange) claims.