Big win for academic freedom? (warning - lengthy post)

Hugh W. Jarvis (hjarvis@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Sun, 30 Jul 1995 16:05:44 -0400

Over two years ago, I posted the story of how Dr. David
Rindos was denied tenure and fired by the University of
Western Australia. The University claimed that this was for
academic reasons, that he had not been "productive" as a
scholar. Given his scholarly contributions, this was
described by me as an absurd action, one which has since
precipitated world-wide condemnation of UWA. As you will
recall, Rindos refused to take this nonsense sitting down.
He fought back, taking his case through university channels,
and when those were derailed, he turned to legal and
government channels.

Last week, a major breakthrough occurred in the case. In
what is being described in Australia as a "landmark
decision," the Western Australian Freedom of Information
Commissioner ruled that Rindos *must* be provided ALL
internal decision-making documents related to his denial of
tenure, documents which the University had earlier refused
to supply to him. The Commission took this action on the
grounds that no evidence existed for poor performance on his
part -- a ruling that surely surprises no one who has
followed even a portion of this case!

I report here on this decision because it gives us some hope
that proper and internationally acceptable academic
standards may finally be applied at the University of Western
Australia, and, by implication, that there is some sense of
justice alive in this war-torn and increasingly chaotic world
we live in. As this mailing list makes abundantly clear,
anthropologists all over the world are part of one community.
As numerous posts over the past few months have also shown,
damage occurring to our discipline in any one country is of
concern to scholars in other countries. When academic standards
are sacrificed and faculty defamed in an attempt to get rid of
them, then we should be and, based on past history, indeed are
all exceedingly concerned. Our concern becomes even greater
when decisions are made, but only later justified, and in any
very inconsistent ways, in a manner which leads many to suspect
the covering-up of a scandal. In the case of archaeology at UWA,
even if justice has been done, it has not been seen to be done.

Just over a year ago, I updated the anthropological
community on various documents which had come to light about
Rindos' case. These seemed to confirm previous suspicions
that a successful campaign of defamation, rather than any
fault in performance, had led to Dr. Rindos being fired.
This campaign originated in the Archaeology Department, and
apparently was a rather transparent response to his
confidential reports, while acting as head of the
Department, regarding the scandalous conditions existing in
the department. These reports, which I noted, among others,
led to a formal inquiry into the department. This inquiry
identified serious problems including the victimisation of
students, rewards being given for sexual favors, serious
conflicts of interest, and denials of academic freedom. As
I then wrote:

An article in Australia's leading newspaper, *The
Australian,* quotes a Tasmanian scholar, Casandra
Pybus, who recently wrote a book on the so-called "Orr
Case" of the 1950's (which until now was likely the
biggest academic scandal in Australian history).
Dr. Pybus noted that she is "concerned that women who
might be screaming for scalps if a heterosexual man was
allegedly having serial relationships with female
students are now very quiescent in this case where a
female staff member was allegedly involved with female

Even more damning, confidential memoranda from members
of the Archaeology Review Committee to high UWA
administrators, including the Vice-Chancellor, have
come to light since Dr. Rindos was fired. These memos
warned the University about the serious sexual and
professional problems in the Archaeology Department
and were put in the strongest of terms imaginable:

"The allegations themselves are sufficiently grave,
sufficiently numerous, sufficiently consistent and
potentially sufficient damaging to the ideals and the
reputation of this University . . . that there are
sufficient grounds for concern to suggest that the
allegations be investigated by a properly
constituted body of enquiry."

"It was alleged that a number of graduate and
undergraduate students had had sexual relations with a
member of staff and that this had been followed by
favoured treatment of some (for example, in terms of
grants and jobs within the Department) and apparent
victimisation of others (including public ridicule and
denial of fair opportunity)."

"It was alleged that an environment had been
fostered in which cynicism and ridicule were used to
promote certain theoretic approaches and denigrate
others, and that this stultified free academic
exchange, damaged academic reputations and integrity,
and ultimately severely retarded academic growth,
particularly of some promising [PhD] students."

I also quoted memoranda from the time which showed that
people were well-aware that plans were being made to get rid of
Dr. Rindos long before any public reasons for doing so were
even proposed. It seems clear that the decision came first,
with the "reasons" being invented later.

"I am very worried that the situation has gone from bad
to worse. . . . I am worried that the second review did
not investigate in sufficient depth, the allegations
mentioned in the first report. As far as I know,
[and this will never cease to astound me!!] the second
committee did not contact any members of the first
review committee nor interview some of the key people
involved. Thus it would not surprise me if they failed
to obtain legally valid evidence to either confirm or
deny the allegations. . . . very damaging activities
are still being carried out. I do not believe that
these will cease until much stronger action is taken."

"As convenor of the Archaeology Review Committee, it is
clear to me that Dr. Rindos and others have received
most unfortunate and unfair treatment at this
university.. . . he and others appear to have been
subjected to a concerted campaign of denigration that
I believe few could have sustained. That he was able
to be productive at all is clear testimony of his
ability as an academic. . . . I believe this university
could be guilty of a grave miscarriage of justice if it
does not confirm Dr. Rindos in his tenured position."

In their replies, neither the chief archaeologist, Professor
Sandra Bowdler, nor the University's top administrators denied
the truth of any of these claims. They also could not provide
any evidence of poor performance on the part of Dr. Rindos --
something which comes as no surprise to anybody having
familiarity with the literature in our field.

Thus, it seemed abundantly clear, even at that point in
time, that the campaign of defamation waged against Dr.
Rindos must have been just another (apparently quite typical)
example of the extremely unethical and unprofessional
behavior characterising the now-defunct Archaeology Department
at the University of Western Australia. That it could have
succeeded, especially in the face of clear and totally
unambiguous warnings and calls for action from an official
University Review Committee, is astonishing (to put it mildly).

Hence, and recalling that the University of Western Australia
has consistently attempted to claim that Dr. Rindos was fired
for purely academic reasons, it is absolutely fascinating to
read the new Freedom of Information Commission Ruling
regarding the EVIDENCE for his alleged poor performance. (In
what follows, Rindos is the complainant", while the University
is the "agency.")

"My preliminary view [of this case] was based, in a
large part, on information from the agency that the
complainant was made aware of the concerns about his
performance and given the opportunity to improve and
that he had been fully informed of the reasons for
refusal of his tenure, by various means including
counseling as to his performance. The complainant
disputes the fact that he has been counseled . . .
[and] claimed that he had not been provided with either
oral discussions nor written evaluations . . .

"The agency was unable to provide me with any documents
recording the nature and extent of any 'counseling,'
as I understand that term, provided to the complainant
during the period covered by the documents in dispute.
I would expect to find such documents in existence if
the agency's practices were as I was led to believe
them to be. The correspondence between the agency and
the complainant does not, in general, reflect any
discussions with, or guidance of, the complainant in
relation to his performance, NOR DOES IT EVIDENCE ANY
suggestion or explanation of any methods by which the
complainant could improve his performance so as to
address the issues of concern to the agency. The agency
submitted that much of the counseling was verbal and
was not recorded or evidenced in documentary form....

"I was not provided with any evidence to enable me to
resolve the differences that appear to exist between
the SWORN EVIDENCE of the complainant and the CLAIMS
[unsworn] of the agency . . . Therefore, it is my view,
based on the material before me, that the public
interest in a member of the staff of an agency being
fully informed of the nature of the adverse comments
against that person, and being given the opportunity to
answer them, outweigh the public interest in ensuring
the integrity of the deliberative processes of the
agency in this instance. I have reached that
conclusion taking into account the academic standing of
the complainant with some of his colleagues and the
impact on his professional affairs of denying him

Put simply, there is *nothing* in the university files to
indicate *any* official concerns with Dr. Rindos' academic
performance. Yet, the University keeps claiming, at least
publicly, that he was denied tenure and fired on academic
grounds! It seems obvious that the public claims are merely
a smoke-screen being used to divert attention from the true
facts of his victimisation and firing for totally non-academic,
and likely defamation-based reasons.

The Ruling also made a number of other points of relevance
to Rindos' treatment at the hands of the University of
Western Australia.

First, it held that two documents (which had been "leaked"
to him and were therefore not under dispute) IN FACT
contained real reasons why he was denied tenure. These
tenure reviews, written by a person who described himself as
a close personal friend of Professor Bowdler, said that
tenure should be denied because Rindos had not accepted
Professor Bowdler's authority he had "destabilised"
archaeology at the University by making the problems in the
department known.

Going even further, these released documents tried to claim
that the campaign of defamation against Dr. Rindos was his
own fault -- this for carrying out his appointed job as chair
properly by reporting the apparent victimization of students!

Interestingly, the Ruling refused to supply Dr. Rindos any
documents recording University attempts to deal with the
problems which had been uncovered in archaeology. The
reason for this avoidance is telling:

"They deal with particular problems identified in the
Department of archaeology and they contain sensitive
personal information, including serious allegations
about a party other than the complainant."

Hence, the Ruling appears to clear him of any guilt whatsoever
in the problems which had been uncovered and indicates that
those rumours which have been pivately circulated about
improper behavior on the part of Dr. Rindos are malicious. The
first review held that Dr. rindos had acted properly in his
position, and we now know that the second review also had
nothing negative to report about him either.

This clearing of his name, again, evokes no surprise at all
to those who know him. After all, "coincidentally," all his
problems started when he became aware of grave harm being
done to students and acted to set things right.

Second, the Ruling said that the University had publicly
misrepresented statements made by the Freedom of
Information Commissioner about the case, even before the
ruling was delivered. When the Vice-Chancellor was informed
of HER improper action, she said she would hold an inquiry,
take disciplinary action, and report back to the
Commissioner. This was never done.

Third, the Commissioner stated "The complaint's assertions
directly contradicted certain information I had received
from the agency . . . As a result, I put a series of
questions to both . . . Although I required both parties to
provide their answers in the form of statutory declarations
[sworn statements], the answers provided me by the agency
were not in that form." Under the terms of the Western
Australian Freedom of Information Act, the University of
Western Australia may have committed a crime by not being
willing to swear to the truthfulness of their answers to the
commission. I imagine we might well be hearing more about
this development!

But for now, I think it is safe to say that some glimmer of
hope exists that Dave Rindos, after a harrowing three and
one-half years might soon be able to finally clear his name
and return to what we would deem more "traditional" academic
pursuits of teaching and research (i.e. no more legal,
political, and bureaucratic battles).

This would not only be a win for him, and for the sake of
legitimate archaeology at UWA, but, far more importantly, it
would return a major victory for the most fundamental and
cherished principles of academia itself -- free, truthful,
and open procedures which consider academic concerns and
academic concerns alone.

I would like to suggest that the readers of this list to
write the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Western
Australia urging her now to set right that which has gone so
terribly wrong. In the same way in which we have been able
to influence the outcome of recent Federal actions by the US
government, I believe we might even be able to have some
small effect on the administration of the University of
Western Australia to improve their academic standards. You
might wish to copy any such notes to Dr. Rindos at his e-mail