Bullied Macquarie University staff demand an apology

Six former Macquarie University staff have demanded an official apology from vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz for the university's failure to act on claims of victimisation and bullying subsequently found to be justified by an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry.

In an open letter sent yesterday, they also called for further action on other recommendations in the ICAC report, including addressing a chaotic staffing regime at the Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism headed by former NSW police minister Peter Anderson.

The university says it has dealt with these issues, including accepting merit selection as the basis for appointments.

The letter reflects the frustration of former staff that their complaints have been largely ignored, even after the scathing findings of the ICAC-commissioned inquiry and their publication in The Australian a fortnight ago.

The report found nine of the centre's 12 staff made legitimate complaints of victimisation, marginalisation, bullying and harassment. They include the six who signed the letter. Although they pursued the complaints all the way up the university hierarchy to Professor Schwartz, the report says the university took no action to resolve them. Eight of the staff resigned and one did not have her contract renewed.

The report criticised Professor Anderson for contributing to the bullying and victimisation, as well as for appointing people with Labor connections without meeting selection criteria, for claiming inappropriate expenses and for being less than frank in his explanations to the inquiry. The report found no direct evidence of corruption but concluded there were "justifiable perceptions that the processes of recruitment and selection are corrupt".

It said the university should consider providing an apology "for the apparent failure in responding to [the complainants'] workplace grievances and taking appropriate action".

Yesterday's letter says deputy vice-chancellor Judyth Sachs "violated our trust" by forwarding the second complaint sent to her and Professor Schwartz to Professor Anderson, even though it was marked in confidence and contained their names. The former staff who signed the letter are Elton Bien, Alfred Gerstl, Belinda Helmke, Greg Pemberton, David Santoro and Alan Watson.

A university spokesman said yesterday the letter reiterated selected parts of the report, "which contains many serious flaws".

No apology to former staff was warranted as the only formal complaint lodged with the university had been found to be without merit, the spokesman said. Professor Sachs had acted "in an entirely appropriate way and consistently with normal management processes". He also provided a resolution carried by PICT staff last week affirming support for Professor Anderson and asking the university to lodge formal complaints with the Internal Audit Bureau, which conducted the investigation for ICAC, with ICAC itself and with the NSW Ombudsman regarding the "unfair processes and erroneous outcome of their investigation, giving rise to recent adverse publicity".

From: http://www.theaustralian.com.au