the Australian

Higher Education Supplement

  • December 10, 1997, p. 29

    UWA rebuked over Rindos affair

  • By Ross Storey

    The University of Western Australia has been reprimanded by a State parliamentary inquiry into the denial of tenure to archaeologist David Rindos.

    The decision comes too late for Dr. Rindos, who died a year ago, but will have implications for all universities.

    The inquiry found there are no recognised national or international standards for assessing academic tenure and describes procedures as mores that most academic institutions invoke.

    "The evidence ... has revealed that tertiary institutions essentially can determine their own procedures for review and performance, and the University of Western Australia is no different in this regard," the report says.

    "In this vein, the committee accepts ... that in all reality, assessments of people are often of necessity subjective, and based on a complex mix of experience and intuition.

    "This, however, does not preclude the need for the university to act with fairness and consistency."

    The report, handed down last week, says the American-born Dr. Rindos did not have adequate and fair opportunities to present his case.

    The inquiry found the university administration had relied on material not disclosed to Dr. Rindos in determining his tenure application.

    Dr. Rindos devoted his energies to getting an outside assessment of what became an extraordinary and controversial affair, which left him unemployed and driven by a sense of injustice for three years.

    He had been refused tenure when the university said his research productivity was significantly below that normally expcted of a senior lecturer in a university - a claim he strenuously denied.

    UWA Vice-chancellor Professor Fay Gale had said the decision had nothing to do with Dr. Rindos's protest over alleged iniquities in the university's archaeology department, then headed by Professor Sandra Bowdler.

    But in a letter to Dr. Rindos in 1993, Professor Gale acknowledged that her decision was based on matters additional to a tenure review committee's finding on academic grounds, and these matters related to his difficulties with Professor Bowdler and the future scope of the archaeology program.

    State Labor MLC Mark Nevill successfully called for a full inquiry into the Rindos affair by the State parliamentary committee, which had the powers of a royal commission.

    Last week Professor Gale strongly rejected the parliamentary committee's findings and said it had denied the university natural justice and procedural fairness.

    "The report contains errors of fact, findings which appear to be based on evidence which is not disclosed in the report and findings which are illogical," she said.

    "The flaws in the process identified by the committee had already been identified by the university and structures have been put in place to avoid a similar situation."

    Last week's report branded university procedures as ad hoc and said they did "not adhere sufficiently to the common law rules of procedural fairness, given that all relevant information was not disclosed to Dr. Rindos for his assessment and rebuttal".

    The report criticises the university's record-keeping and document handling facilities, which it says had resulted in "delays, misplaced documents, incomplete files and inadequate material before the committee".

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