the West Australian

  • December 8, 1997, p. 12

    The Issues: "Politicians intrude on academe

    AT BEST, the continued inquiry by a parliamentary committee into the Rindos affair at the University of WA has been a questionable use of parliamentary time and money.

    At worst, it has been an unwarranted intrusion into the university's affairs and a threat to the traditions of academic freedom.

    About 20 months after the Legislative Council's Public Administration Committee began an inquiry into the denial of tenure to David Rindos in 1991, it has found that the university acted without adequate procedural fairness.

    Dr Rindos was appointed senior lecturer in 1989 and died a year ago.

    The university stands by its decision. In turn, it has accused the committee of denying it procedural fairness in the course of the inquiry.

    The parliamentary inquiry was wound up at the end of last year without reaching a conclusion but was reconstituted this year, with changes in membership and chairman. With Dr Rindos dead and administrative systems changed at the university, there was no need to re-open what was essentially a political inquiry.

    The university is a public institution that operates under State legislation. It is publicly accountable through its governing senate, which includes a significant number of government appointments, and public reporting. It has an established external appeals system for aggrieved staff.

    The Rindos affair was essentially an internal matter for the university. It was to do partly with industrial relations and partly with academic performance.

    The Council had the right to interfere but was wrong to do so. Parliamentary committees act in a highly political manner - as was shown by the leak of information from this one - and often have political motives.

    The Senate system of governance of universities is a time- honoured method of protecting them from political interference in their daily administration and academic freedoms. The quarantining of universities from the politics of government control is aimed at preserving the cherished values of free thought and inquiry on our campuses.

    The Rindos affair did not justify the breach of university autonomy by an exercise stained by political motivation.

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