Serious misconduct finding against ex Uni Adelaide VC

“I have rejected the vice chancellor’s evidence in every respect where he sought to disagree with the account given by the two women or to minimise his conduct,” says ICAC Commissioner

Former Uni Adelaide VC Peter Rathjen made unwanted and unwelcome advances that were sexual in nature to two women on the university’s staff, South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander has found.

Mr Lander states, “in my opinion his conduct, having regard to the serious power imbalance between him and the victims, amounted to serious misconduct for the purposes of the ICAC Act.”

Mr Lander has not released his report, to protect the identity of the women, but yesterday issued a statement outlining his investigation and conclusions.

The narrative also covers the university’s inquiry into the VC’s behaviour, including events leading up to and following then chancellor Kevin Scarce’s decision to report the matter to ICAC in March, nearly a year after the events that led to the complaints.  Mr Lander finds that the chancellor was advised by members of council that he should resign, which he did on April 27, three days before the VC was told of the ICAC investigation and went on leave.

“I do not think that the chancellor should have been put in the position in which he was put. I do not think my investigation could have embarrassed him or the university such that he needed to resign. However, he elected to put the university’s interests above his own by resigning,” the Commissioner states.

However, present chancellor, Catherine Branson told an Adelaide press conference yesterday,” I did not, nor did my colleagues, think the former chancellor should stand aside because he had done something wrong. It was for the ICAC to form a view whether he had done something wrong. We sought to encourage him to consider his position to preserve the integrity of the ICAC inquiry and to avoid embarrassment to any staff or council members who would be required to give evidence to the ICAC.”

Overall Mr Lander finds, “the university responded to the complaint when it was made appropriately” but in recommendations, he suggests it review its policies, procedures and guidelines on inappropriate sexual conduct/harassment, “with a view to introducing a policy or policies that are understandable.”

In a statement issued last night Ms Branson, said the university, “regrets the initial handling of this incident, which followed external legal advice given to the university. While Professor Rathjen’s actions were his own, we acknowledge that the way in which the matter was initially dealt with by the university was not appropriate.”

“The conduct of the former vice-chancellor as outlined in the ICAC statement is unacceptable and does not represent our values or expectations of behaviour at the university from any staff member, especially our most senior leader.”

The Chancellor adds, “the University accepts and will adopt all of the recommendations made by ICAC to improve our processes” and will establish, “an independent review of our processes and our checks and balances, in relation to the accountability of our most senior leadership.”

The ABC in Adelaide reports Professor Rathjen stating ICAC’s serious misconduct finding, “is disproportionate to the conduct found.”