The West Australian, Perth

  • 15 January 1997


    There should be no more inquiries into the Rindos affair.

    The report by a University of WA senate committee -- presented this week -- should rule off the ledger on the troubled and often sordid business.

    The Rindos affair centred on the university's 1993 denial of a permanent contract to senior archaeology lecturer David Rindos. Dr Rindos waged a relentless and vitriolic campaign against the UWA until last month, when he died at the age of 49.

    At one stage last year a parliamentary inquiry, the Ombudsman and the university senate committee were investigating the grievances of Dr Rindos, who came to UWA from the United States in 1989.

    Dr Rindos left the university in 1993 and remained unemployed until his death. He claimed the UWA decision was in response to his whistleblowing on alleged mismanagement in the archaeology department. Although he had support from some UWA staff members and students, he was opposed by the other archaeology academics and most of the department's original postgraduate students.

    The senate committee report was compiled by a group of people who could be described as having the best interests of the UWA at heart. But this should not mean that the community cannot have confidence in its findings.

    The committee was made up of external members who have not been involved in Rindos-related matters. Nevertheless, WA Water Corporation managing director Jim Gill, St Hilda's principal June Jones, Federal Court judge Robert Nicholson and Irwin Barrett-Lennard backed vice-chancellor Fay Gale in her handling of the Rindos saga and chastised some of her critics.

    The committee was appointed in February last year after Labor MP Mark Nevill attacked UWA administrators in a speech in the Legislative Council. The council set up its own inquiry a month later, drawing criticism from national university leaders and State Education Minister Colin Barnett.

    The Upper House inquiry held more than 27 meetings, heard from 17 witnesses and received 60 written submissions, but failed to reach a conclusion before it was wound up at the end of last year.

    It would be a folly for the inquiry to be reconstituted when Parliament resumes in March.

    Dr Rindos is dead, Professor Gale has been vindicated and the senate committee has recommended further administrative changes to university procedures which are markedly different from those in force when Dr Rindos arrived in 1989.

    The Rindos affair was essentially an internal university matter which dragged on for years in the most public fashion, not only because of Dr Rindos' character but because there were undercurrents trying to destroy Professor Gale and benefit the mining industry.

    One of the most worrying aspects of the whole saga was the university's apparent willingness to bow to pressure from mining interests to close its archaeology centre, which was involved in assessing sites of Aboriginal interest.

    The community expects that its universities will be centres of independent academic excellence. It is up to UWA to live up to that expectation.