Sacked lecturer wins inquiry

May 3, 1996

David Rindos has been fighting a controversial decision by the University of Western Australia that cost him his job as a lecturer in archaeology for the past three years.

Sacked because the university said his performance as a teacher and researcher was inadequate, Dr Rindos has now made state history after the Western Australian parliament decided to hold an inquiry into the affair.

The inquiry has powers equivalent to a Royal Commission and will investigate whether the procedures adopted by the university in relation to Dr Rindos were deficient and amounted to a breach of the rules of fairness.

The Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee attacked the decision to set up the inquiry and accused the state government of interfering in the internal affairs of the university. AVCC vice-president Geoff Wilson said it set a dangerous precedent. The government should not interfere with the day-to-day running of a university which was not a government body, he said.

Dr Rindos, a homosexual, claims he was denied tenure because he raised concerns among staff and students about the conduct of the then head of the archaeology department, Sandra Bowdler, a lesbian, who has been accused of sexual harassment.

He lost his post in 1993 and is fighting for reinstatement. He became the first academic in the world to win a case for defamation over material published on the Internet. Dr Rindos, an American with a PhD from Cornell University, was appointed a lecturer in archaeology at UWA in 1989 after working at a number of United States universities.

He raised questions about the way Professor Bowdler ran the department and particularly the relationships she had with some of her female students. A university inquiry later recommended that Dr Rindos be denied tenure because of unsatisfactory performance.

Vice chancellor Fay Gale accepted the recommendation and has since maintained that the questions raised by Dr Rindos about Professor Bowdler were not linked to him being denied tenure.

Professor Gale agreed that complaints had been made by students and that as a result of an investigation, Professor Bowdler was removed as head of archaeology and the department shut down.

But industrial and legal advice indicated that a case for misconduct could not be proved so Professor Bowdler was warned and required to give a written guarantee that there would be no repetition.

"That is entirely separate from Dr Rindos. He was denied tenure after a review of his performance found that his research was dramatically below that of any other academic to whom we have granted tenure," Professor Gale said. "Although he had been advised earlier by his supervisor that an improvement was needed in his teaching and his research he did neither."

The parliamentary inquiry has been given a wide-ranging brief, which includes looking at the internal management procedures of the university, the functions of its governing body, the office of vice chancellor in internal administration and the role of divisional and departmental heads in the decision to deny tenure.

It will also determine what remedies may be available to Dr Rindos while also focusing on the need "to maintain the integrity, professionalism and international standing of state universities generally, thereby reinforcing the public confidence in the state tertiary education system". A university spokesman said it was unfortunate the inquiry was being held before the state ombudsman had completed an investigation into the same affair.

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