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Leadership “crisis” at Murdoch

7 November 2014

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In scenes redolent of the political sphere, Murdoch University seems riven by leadership tension, following the forced resignation of Richard Higgott as vice-chancellor.

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Higgott had been suspended in September upon certain matters being reported to the WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) by the university.

It’s been reported that in June an anonymous group of 35 staff, calling itself the “Murdoch Meta Management Group”, sent a scathing letter to chancellor Flanagan which included allegations about Higgott’s credit card use, the way he dealt with his colleagues and the financial and academic performance of the university. The group said its members believed the university was in “crisis”, describing Higgott and provost Ann Capling as “arrogant, poor listeners who had systematically destroyed the collegiate culture of the university”.

Nevertheless, the precise allegations being investigated by the commission remain a mystery.
Senior members of faculty have come to Higgott’s (and, Capling’s) defence, with Benjamin Reilly, a professor at the university, labelling the disgruntled group as “nameless cowards” resistant to reform.

Higgott tried to turn Murdoch into what it was, into a ¬research-led elite university. That is a big, audacious undertaking and not everyone is able or willing to be part of an elite university. I think this small group are essentially the people who can’t or won’t get with the program. But they are in no way representative of most of us.

The recently arrived Toby Miller (professor of cultural policy studies) has penned a panegyric – In defence of Richard Higgott, a colleague who cared – which concludes:

The faceless, nameless 35, and those who judge and publish based on their fine words are immune to accusations of jobs for the boys. They stand above the fray. But somewhere in their eyrie, bloodlust sated, do any of them wonder, “What have I done?”.

Heady stuff.

Acting vice-chancellor Andrew Taggart didn’t help matters in refusing to endorse a statement issued by his 10 deans backing Capling, who was closely aligned to Higgott.

Meanwhile , more than 40 academics, most of them professors from across the university, wrote to Taggart this week to request that he and Flanagan address staff about their handling of the issue. Just such a meeting was organised for Thursday 6 November – and cancelled late on Wednesday, with Taggart advising staff:

As you would appreciate these are sensitive matters and, unfortunately, there is very little more than what is already on the public record that can be shared with you at this time.

Things might be a little calmer when the CCC reports – which appears imminent – and issues actually discussed in the open.  Or they might not.

See
Murdoch v-c quits
Murdoch University chancellor David Flanagan cancels meeting to discuss Richard Higgott ‘crisis’
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