V-c snubbed by council

June 25, 2004

The University of New South Wales council has questioned its departing vice-chancellor's decision to clear a renowned transplant immunologist of charges of scientific misconduct.

In April, vice-chancellor Rory Hume announced he was resigning after less than two years in a five-year contract. Although he gave the reason as a breakdown in his relationship with the university's governing council, his supporters believe the crucial factor was an ongoing dispute over the misconduct decision.

The council said it had accepted the report of an external inquiry that found that Bruce Hall, the immunologist concerned, had published material with "a deliberate intent to deceive or in reckless disregard for the truth".

The inquiry committee, headed by a former High Court Chief Justice, Gerard Brennan, spent six months investigating claims by researchers who had worked under Professor Hall that he had fabricated research results, manipulated authorship of scientific papers and falsely stated in a grant application that an experiment had occurred.

In reviewing the case, Professor Hume decided that Professor Hall was guilty of academic misconduct but that this was not serious enough to justify more severe penalties than censure. The Adelaide-educated academic, who left a senior post with the University of California, Los Angeles to join UNSW, said Professor Hall would retain his position.

The university council announced that it had "affirmed the view that the findings (of the Brennan report) constitute the most expert statement available on the issues". But because of the time that had elapsed, and in the interests of natural justice and cost, the council said no further action would be taken against Professor Hall.

Professor Hume last week responded with a sharp rebuke, saying the decision was deeply troubling and even dangerous. Writing in The Australian newspaper, he said it set the stage "for further erosion of due process and... grave damage to the institution. It denies the validity and integrity of the incredibly detailed work undertaken by those required to bring this vexed matter to its conclusion. Integrity and due process should not be sacrificed for political reasons, either in science or in the conduct of our universities".

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