Grim week for groundbreaking females as two chiefs forced out of office

August 17, 2001

For the first time in Australia a chancellor at one university and a vice-chancellor at another have been forced out of office in the same week, writes Geoff Maslen.

The University of Sydney senate forced the resignation of its chancellor, Dame Leonie Kramer. University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Mary O'Kane quit after senior managers said they had lost confidence in her.

At Sydney, a simmering dispute between the governing senate and its chair, emeritus professor Kramer, finally erupted. Academics on the council threatened to dismiss her unless she resigned.

Although the chancellor's role is mainly ceremonial, Professor Kramer - a noted conservative and one-time chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - had taken a strong interventionist line in the way the university was managed.

She negotiated a package worth A$500,000 (£182,000) for the vice-chancellor, Gavin Brown, without the senate's knowledge.

After Professor Kramer announced her resignation, the senate voted to review the position of chancellor and its relationship to the senate.

University of Adelaide staff were stunned when Professor O'Kane resigned. She was appointed vice-chancellor in 1996 on a seven-year contract. At 41, she was the youngest person and only the third woman to become vice-chancellor of an Australian university.

A former computer engineer and chair of the Australian Research Council's research grants committee, she introduced a wave of reforms. These were to include a merger between the faculties of science and agriculture. But senior staff are believed to have become perturbed by her management style.

Under a confidentiality agreement, Professor O'Kane would not disclose all the reasons for her resignation.

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