Hon. Mark Nevill to the Minister for Education: Parliamentary Question 1476, Parts 1 & 2

  • Question 1476 [1]: Is the Minster aware of the removal of Dr David Rindos from the University of Western Australia on the pretext of performance?
  • Answer 1476 [1]: I understand that Dr David Rindos has not been granted tenure at the University of Western Australia after the university has followed procedures consistent with the academic award.Documented Reply to Answer to 1476 [1]
  • Question 1476 [2]: Given the Australian and international disquiet at his removal, and especially considering Dr Rindos' international standing in archaeology, is the Minister concerned about the effects of these events on the reputation of the University of Western Australia?
  • Answer 1476 [2]: (a) There is commonly disquite over negative tenure decisions and the case of Dr Rindos is no exception. While negative publicity surroundingthe decision does not assist the reputation of the university, . . .Documented Reply to 1476 [2a]
  • (b) . . . the senate presumably weighed up the consequences of the action when it endorsed the decision not to grant tenure. Documented Reply to Answer to 1476 [2b]
  • NOTE: The Answers read by the Minister were apparently provided him by the University of Western Australia

    Documented Reply 1476 [1]:

    This is not necessarily true. The university has not followed relevant provisions in the award. The academic award provides clear procedures to be invoked in cases of poor performance, actual or alleged (Sections 13 and 14). These provisions are specifically mentioned regarding dismissal for poor performance, in The Regulations Governing Tenure and Dismissal for Academic Staff ("The Contract," Part II, Paragraphs 8 and 9).

    Without going into detail here, award provisions provide ways of dealings with allegations of poor performance (even if they become formal), in a matter that is "positive, involving suggestions for improvement, and allowing a situation in which this [can] occur." [Oxnard to Rindos, 1 December 1993]

    The requirment to follow proper procedures was communicated to my then supervisor, Professor Bowdler, by her supervisor, the Head of Division, Charles Oxnard. However, as he writes: "[it] never happened. All communications from the very first were totally negative. . . . It seemed to me she was aiming directly for his dismissal . .. and laying a paper trial with dismissal in mind" [Oxnard to Rindos, 1 December 1993]. Professor Bowdler's unwillingness to follow proper procedure, in part, accounted for my relocation to the protection of the Geography Department in late March, 1991 [Oxnard to Rindos, 1 December 1993].

    No clear legal precedent exists for evaluation of probationary appointments or their nature and relationship to the award. The matter has apparently never been specifically considered in any jurisdiction. Furthermore, no precedent could exist for the evaluation of denials of tenure at the University of Western Australia. The Vice Chancellor indicates I am the first person EVER to be denied tenure at UWA [Gale to Rindos 21 April 1994, Rindos to Gale 29 April 1994].

    While the University apparently holds that relevant sections of the Award and of my contract do not apply to my denial of tenure and dismissal, this need not be the case. The average academic would read Part II of The Contract as applicable to tenuring procedures, and from that reading natural expectations would arise in terms of procedural protection. The matter is being referred to the State Industrial Commission for adjudication.

    Documented Reply 1476 [2a]:

    Thus far, somewhere over 50 letters of support and protest have arrived at the university as a result of my case [letters known to me can be supplied upon request]. The exact number of letters remains unknown because the university appears to have not produced some letters under Freedom of Information proceedings. Without ascribing motivations, I have referred the matter to the State FOI Office.

    The letters arriving after the first recommendation to deny me tenure were written by the most prestigious scholars in my discipline [Independent evaluations, see: Goldson to Gale 29 April 1993, White to Gale 29 April 1993, Hallam to Gale 1 May 1993].

    The most recent letter known to me [Professor Lord Colin Renfrew ofKiamsthorn, F.B.A., University of Cambridge, Department of Archaeology to Faye Gale, 9 February 1994] indicates the damage occurring to UWA's reputation.

    Statements made in letters of support and complaint sent to the University reveal a response going well beyond "disquiet," and, indeed, are presented in terms going far beyond the language normally used in academic communications. I present here a few of the many comments made to UWA:
    "Surprised and disturbed,"
    "has not received fair treatment,"
    "a grave miscarriage of justice,"
    "surely deserving of permancy,"
    "I can barely imagine a circumstance that might [lead to denial for him] other than fiscal emergency,"
    "the case for tenure is overwhelming,"
    "following developments wth amazement and increasing dismay. Recent statments have shocked me,"
    "the world archaeological community . . . are very concerned,"
    "inexplicable suggestion,"
    "I find it intolerable that there is even a suggestion [of] sound academic grounds,"
    "To deny tenure would bring dishonour on [UWA's reputation] even greater than the international scandal already associated with it,"
    "I find the circumstances in which [he] finds himself unworthy of an academic institution and very damaging to [your] University,"
    "symptom of political expediency,"
    "the damage [to UWA] will have far-reaching effects,"
    "serious mistake and denial of natural justice,"
    "the international community of archaeologists is likely to black list [UWA],"
    "scandal of national proportions,"
    "political and personal issues rather than academic concerns appear to be driving [the decision]. I find this fact frightful,"
    "defective judgement,"
    "[his] best course of action would be to file suit,"
    "I shudder to think what it is doing to [UWA's] international reputation,"
    "irregular proceedings,"
    "I can only express shock,"
    "very distressing,"
    "I protest the outrageous decision,"
    "a greiveous mistake,"
    "unjust and highly denigratory,"
    "deeply distressed,"
    "the claim [of poor performance] is absurd, a strength of assertion I rarely use. It can have no credibility,"
    "this matter will inevietably be the subject of international scrutiny and international comment,"
    "plans for motions of censure and academic bans against UWA are now being widely discussed."

    Documented Reply 1476 [2b]

    Senate Minutes [28 June 1993] indicate that Senate "noted" the Vice-Chancellor's decision. It did not "endorse." This may well be relevant to Part II (Paragraph 9) of my contract which demands Senate ratification of recommendations to dismiss staff. I was, of course, still employed by the university when dismissed.

    Paragraph 9 of The Regulations clearly state that a "decision to dismiss a staff member for misconduct or *unsatisfactory performance*shall not take effect until *ratified* by the Senate." Paragraph 8 holds that "conditions or procedures under which a staff member's employment may be suspended or terminated shall be those determined . . . by the award." These paragraphs of my contract were not followed.

    Senate held (I assume on the basis of evidence provided by the Vice Chancellor) only that procedures had been followed, that advice had been prepared, and that the Vice Chancellor acted in accordance with her delegated powers.

    No further data is available to me regarding the closed session of Senate at which my case was discussed. My Union, despite having a seat on Senate and appealing to be allowed to attend discussions, was not permitted to observe these proceedings [Sunday Times 11 July 1993]. Such data would clearly be useful in evaluating their decison.

    The Post Graduate Student representative to Senate was also excluded from attending despite having raised a related motion which was a topic of discussion at the closed session [Budrikis to Rindos 1 June 1994].

    At least some letters sent to Senate protesting the VC's decision were never distributed [Orr to W A Science Teachers Association 17 June 1993].