Australian v-c facing assault charges announces resignation

University of New England’s Brigid Heywood ‘strenuously denies’ wrongdoing in incident reportedly involving 16-year-old girl

August 5, 2022
Court House in Armidale, New South Wales Australia
Source: iStock

The vice-chancellor of an Australian university has announced her resignation after being charged with assault.

Brigid Heywood has left New South Wales’ University of New England with immediate effect after being accused of common assault and behaving in an offensive manner in a public place. Professor Heywood, who “strenuously denies” wrongdoing, had led the institution since 2019.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the case related to an incident involving a 16-year-old girl at the Armidale Ex Services Memorial Club on 8 March, where Professor Heywood had been part of a panel discussion to mark International Women’s Day. She is due to appear in court on 26 September.

James Harris, New England’s chancellor, said that the university council and Professor Heywood acknowledged “the widespread attention and concern” generated by the charges.

“In this context, Professor Heywood formed the view that it was in the best interests of the university that she resign from her position and university council has accepted her decision,” Mr Harris said.

“Professor Heywood has advised the university council she strenuously denies there is any truth to the charges and will defend them.”

Mr Harris said that the council and vice-chancellor “acknowledge[d] the deep hurt felt by many on hearing of the charges and thanks the community for the patience shown as we worked through these matters. The university council wants to clearly state that it remains deeply committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for its students, staff and community at all times.”

Mr Harris also thanked Professor Harris for the “significant contribution” she had made to the university. Born in Yorkshire, she was a professor of chemistry at Keele University and the Open University before joining New Zealand’s Massey University as assistant vice-chancellor for research in 2011.

In 2015 she joined the University of Tasmania as deputy vice-chancellor, before moving to Armidale.

After the allegations against Professor Heywood emerged she had faced widespread calls to step aside, including from local MP Adam Marshall and the National Tertiary Education Union. Police said that the alleged victim was “not physically injured” in the incident.

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