UWA in tenure dispute

January 30, 1998

A LEADING British archaeologist has criticised the University of Western Australia over its treatment of the late David Rindos, one of its academics.

Dr Rindos died of a heart attack in December 1996 at the age of 49.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University, said this week that Dr Rindos had suffered a "monstrous injustice" when the university denied him tenure in 1991. "I think this was one of the most flagrant cases of academic injustice I've seen in recent decades," he said.

"When somebody dies then they are no longer in a position to undertake any legal actionI so it's a great pity if the necessary questions do not continue to be asked."

A report by a Western Australian parliamentary inquiry into the case, published last month, a full year after Dr Rindos died, reprimanded the university and said it had unfairly not given him adequate opportunities to present his case.

Dr Rindos, an American, was appointed a lecturer in archaeology at UWA in 1989 after working for several years in the United States. When he was denied tenure and effectively sacked for what he claimed was raising questions about the conduct of a colleague, his case attracted international attention.

Lord Renfrew said Dr Rindos's work on the origins of agriculture was a standard classic. "It seemed extraordinary that the university tried to suggest he wasn't a scholar of very high standing."

Fay Gale, UWA's vice-chancellor, who retired at the end of December, rejected the inquiry's findings and said the university stood by its decision. "There is nothing contained in the committee report which materially affects the decision to deny Dr Rindos tenure," Professor Gale said, adding that the committee had denied the university natural justice and procedural fairness.

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

A university inquiry later recommended that Dr Rindos be denied tenure because of unsatisfactory performance. Professor Gale accepted the recommendation and has since maintained that the questions raised by Dr Rindos about Professor Bowdler were not connected to the tenure decision.

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

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