The Sunday Times, Perth

  • 19 January 1997

    Discipline unlikely: UWA report
    By Joe Poprzeczny

    (picture of "Professor Fay Gale")

    University of WA Vice-Chancellor Professor Fay Gale was told disciplinary action as unlikely to succeed even if allegations against a controversial female academic at the centre of UWA's archaeology scandal could be substantiated.

    This had emerged from a UWA senate committee report into the decision to deny tenure to American archaeologist, the late Dr David Rindos.

    Committee members included Federal Judge Robert Nicholson, St Hilda's headmistress June Jones, public servant Dr Jim Gill, and farmer Irwin Barrett-Lennard.

    The committee examined UWA's earlier Clyde-Hotop report which investigated complaints against the operations of the archaeology department which was headed by Professor Sandra Bowdler.

    Dr Rindos maintained he had become a victim of long-standing problems with her department.

    As he fought to be reinstated, he was steadfast in the belief that he was denied tenure because he had become a whistleblower and that UWA took the soft option to resolve the crisis.

    The committee said that once Professor Gale assumed direct intervention, "she set in train processes which ensured that professional judgments were made by people familiar with national and international academic standards in the area". She used existing procedures and introduced others to ensure that the decision she was required to make was made in a manner consistent with award provisions and university policy.

    According to the senate report, Professors Doug Clyde and Stan Hotop found that complaints against Professor Bowdler fell into five groups:

    The senate report said nine people complained against Professor Bowdler.

    One was Dr Rindos, another was former UWA archaeologist Associate Professor Sylvia Hallam and the others were students.

    Professors Clyde and Hotop said the complaints should be taken seriously.

    The senate report went on to say that Professors Clyde and Hotop claimed: "At the minimum Bowdler should be advised that the allegations suggest that she appears to be prone to indulging in academic thuggery."

    But they also found that Professor Bowdler had backers in her department among students and academics as well as two WA Museum staffers.

    The senate report said Professor Gale was told by two other senior academics, Professors Neville Bruce and Bernard Moulden, to carefully examine the archaeology department.

    Professors Bruce and Moulden did this after they completed a detailed review of the department in December 1991 that also took evidence from Dr Rindos.

    Their report recommended that Professor Gale:

    Professors Bruce and Moulden forwarded confidential memos to the Vice-Chancellor and other senior UWA administrators detailing the concerns which underpinned the recommendations.

    They urged then to "investigate the archaeology situation rigorously and to consider the Rindos tenure issue in the light of the investigations".

    Professor Gale consulted an external industrial advocate who advised her that even if the allegations against Professor Bowdler could be substantiated, it would be unlikely that disciplinary action could be initiated under the relevant industrial award.

    Professor Gael then questioned Professor Bowdler in the presence of her union representative and the acting head of UWA's human resources division.

    Professor Bowdler was told of the general nature of the complaints raised against her.

    Professor Gale instructed her to submit a full response, which she did.

    "Taking into account all information, the Vice-Chancellor concluded that there had been problems in the management of the department of archaeology and subsequently arranged for responsibility for the department to be transferred to anthropology" the report said.

    Though the senate committee did not directly criticise Professor Gale's handling of the case, it said she had "pursued a strategy with regard to Bowdler based on award procedures and legal advice given orally."

    Because Professor Gale got oral and not written advice, it can not be examined and the report recommends that in future "any legal advice obtained by the university should be in writing and retained."

    The report included a section titled management of staff and students, including postgraduate supervision.

    "Students and all members of staff may reasonably expect to pursue their work and studies at the university in a safe and civil environment, free from discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, threatening or violent conduct, or offences against property," it said.

    "This requires that staff with management responsibilities endeavor to create a positive working and learning environment marked by trusting relationships."