Adelaide vice-chancellor departs over ‘ill health’

University’s former boss will not return from indefinite leave, as misconduct probe continues

July 20, 2020
Adelaide city centre
Source: iStock

University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen has formally resigned, two months after he and former chancellor Kevin Scarce departed in sensational circumstances.

New chancellor Catherine Branson has told staff and students that the university council has accepted Professor Rathjen’s resignation over “ill health”.

Professor Rathjen took indefinite leave in early May. Subsequently, South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) announced that he was investigating “potential issues of serious or systemic misconduct and maladministration” at Adelaide, including allegations of improper conduct by Professor Rathjen and the university’s handling of those allegations.

The commissioner, Bruce Lander, said that he had only gone public about the investigation because he was worried that continued speculation about the departure of Professor Rathjen – and of Rear Admiral Scarce, who had quit abruptly five months before his term’s scheduled end – could inflict “unnecessary negative impact on the university’s operations”.

Mr Lander has warned people not to assume that “impropriety” has occurred before his investigation is concluded. He has not committed to releasing the findings of the probe.

While rumours have swirled over the reasons for the investigation, Ms Branson – who was deputy chancellor at the time – cautioned against speculation. In a message to staff and students in early May, she said it was “natural for us to want to know more about what is happening” but stressed that “the law places restraints on what can be said about an ICAC investigation”.

Professor Rathjen is a Cambridge-born and Adelaide-educated biochemist and former Rhodes scholar. He was vice-chancellor of the University of Tasmania before taking over at Adelaide.

Ms Branson, who was appointed chancellor this month, said that the university “extends its appreciation for the contribution Professor Rathjen has made since taking up the role in 2018”. She said that an announcement about the search for a new vice-chancellor would follow “in due course”.

The Australian newspaper reported last week that the university would mount a global hunt for a replacement. It said acting vice-chancellor Mike Brooks had indicated that he had “no intention” of seeking the role permanently.

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