|Peter Rathjen, former VC and president, U Adelaide|
Such is the fate of Australian scientist Peter Rathjen, immediate past Vice-Chancellor and president of the University of Adelaide. Today in Australia, Bruce Lander, an Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, released a statement about his investigation of Rathjen, who has a long history of sexual misconduct.
The statement, a brief summary of a much longer report that is being kept secret, outlines Rathjen's latest abuses, which included the sexual harassment (including unwanted sexual touching) of two women employed by the University of Adelaide. Lander found that their allegations of harassment (or perhaps more properly, assault) after a university function in April 2019 were true. Lander also found that Rathjen lied both to him and the university's Chancellor about a number of matters related to his past misconduct.
I was gratified to see (pp. 5-6 and 8 of Lander's statement) that the inquiry included questions about prior misconduct that I had previously published on this blog. My first mention of allegations against Rathjen were very brief, part of a much longer report in July 2019 on bullying and sexual harassment by the former director of the University of Adelaide's ancient DNA lab, Alan Cooper. More recently, I expanded on those allegations, in a blog post last May. When confronted with these allegations, Rathjen lied about them several times, as Lander reports.
The report also confirms one of the most serious allegations against Rathjen, that he sexually assaulted a student while science dean at the University of Melbourne. I had originally withheld the name of the university involved at the request of a colleague of the victim of that attack, but since it is now public--and widely reported in the Australian media--there is no longer any point in doing so. This also raises serious questions about whether multiple institutions in Australia "passed the harasser" despite their knowledge of Rathjen's misconduct, thus allowing him to undeservedly climb to the summits of academia.
Indeed, there are already signs of damage control across Australian universities. Here, for example, is a message sent by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania on the heels of the ICAC report. Note that Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black states that an investigation at UTAS found no evidence that Rathjen had committed sexual harassment or sexual assault while there. He didn't need to, however. As I reported, while Vice-Chancellor at UTAS, Rathjen protected a convicted pedophile from being kicked off campus even after he had re-offended, and despite a campaign led by #MeToo activist Nina Funnell and others to get the university to do the right thing.
From: Professor Rufus Black <listserv@UTAS.EDU.AU>
Subject: Peter Rathjen ICAC report released | We stand ready to support our community
Date: 26 August 2020 at 9:33:56 am GMT+2
Black's letter is typical, and will be typical going forward, of attempts by university administrators to jump clear of the Rathjen scandal and claim that they either did nor know or took action as soon as they did know. And they will point to the fact that Rathjen (and thus perhaps his victims) finally got justice as proof that the system works. Actually, it does not work very often, as the failure of the University of Melbourne to alert the academic community about Rathjen's crimes indicates.
At the University of Adelaide, for example, officials continue to look the other way despite clear abuses in the School of Education and the dental school, situations on which I have also reported (see the long, long list of comments on this blog post for details about the dental school and allegations of bullying, mismanagement, and abuse.)
I'd like to end on a personal note, one which I find amusing, as serious as it is. As readers of this blog know, I have been sued for defamation by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin, whose misconduct I have reported on extensively. As part of the "evidence" that I falsely accuse academics of being sexual predators and the like, Kurin includes a number of examples. One of them, mentioned in section 44 of her Amended Complaint, is none other than that of Peter Rathjen.
Update August 27: Elise Worthington and Conor Duffy of Australia's ABC have more today on the University of Melbourne investigation, which Rathjen lied about when asked, according to the ICAC statement. Serious sexual misconduct is a euphemism here for sexual assault.
Update August 28: Adelaide bully and enabler express their concerns about the ICAC report and Rathjen.
As usually happens when an institution suddenly faces a public scandal, its leaders have issued statements to the rank and file expressing their concerns and assuring everyone that they are there to listen. The first of these comes from Faye McCallum, head of the School of Education, whose own history of bullying I reported on earlier; the second from Mike Brooks, who has been appointed interim Vice-Chancellor and President to replace Rathjen, and who earlier (as Deputy VC for Research) was a key enabler of Alan Cooper, ancient DNA director at Adelaide fired for bullying students and postdocs.
Note that McCallum says everything is going to calm down and advises staff not to talk to the media. Only when staff started talking to the media did anything start to change.
From: Vice Chancellor <email@example.com.
Subject: [Alluniversity] ICAC Findings
Subject: [Alluniversity] ICAC Findings
Earlier this week the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) issued a public statement and findings following his inquiry into allegations of improper conduct by the University’s former Vice-Chancellor, Peter Rathjen. Professor Rathjen was found guilty of serious misconduct under the ICAC Act.
ICAC made no findings of maladministration or misconduct about any person other than the former Vice-Chancellor.
Findings about the former Vice-Chancellor are deeply shocking. I acknowledge the distress caused to the victims impacted by the behaviour of the former Vice-Chancellor.
This news will have been profoundly disturbing to staff and students as well as members of our wider community.
As our Chancellor, Ms Catherine Branson AC QC, has repeatedly stated, the former Vice-Chancellor’s conduct is unacceptable. It is grossly at odds with the values, conduct and behaviour expected of any staff member. The University is fortunate to have had the benefit of the Chancellor’s exemplary leadership over the period of the ICAC inquiry.
All of the recommendations made by ICAC to improve or clarify our policies and procedures have been accepted in full.
I strongly encourage any staff or students who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment to come forward and report it firstname.lastname@example.org.
au. You will have the University’s full support.
Along with the senior leadership, I am personally committed to fostering a culture and environment in which staff and students can thrive and feel safe, valued and welcome. All members of our community deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and collegiality.
Professor Mike Brooks FTSE FACS
Interim Vice-Chancellor and President
The University of Adelaide | Adelaide SA 5005
Update August 30: There has been a huge amount of media coverage in Australia about Rathjen's final downfall, which I have not been posting here because I assume that readers in Australia at least are seeing much of it (and a frustrating amount of it is behind firewalls, meaning I can't read a lot of it myself.) But I did want to link to this very good piece in The Guardian by Tory Shepherd. Tory was one of the first journalists to begin reporting on the rot inside the University of Adelaide (aside from me, of course) back when I was reporting on the many abuses of former ancient DNA director Alan Cooper. She also was very good about crediting the work of the reporter who broke the Cooper story, something that both Science and Nature refused to do in their own coverage of the firing of one of ancient DNA's leading pioneers.
As I have said many times, the most important reason to credit the previous work of other journalists is not professional courtesy--although journalistic ethics actually requires it--but to put readers in the picture about how particular stories came about. In the Cooper case, for example, it was important for readers to know that former members of his lab had approached a reporter and told their stories, and that only then had the university begun its own investigation. By not mentioning this, Science, Nature, and any other publication that failed to cite the previous reporting gave readers the false impression that the University of Adelaide had simply begun the investigation because it was concerned about protecting its staff--rather than the truth, which is that Adelaide was concerned about protecting its reputation.
In the case of Peter Rathjen, fortunately, the ICAC statement specifically referred to my previous reporting (pp. 5-6) and the role it played in the investigation, which makes it (more) difficult for media accounts to ignore it.
In Tory Shepherd's case, as I say above, she was always good about not only professional courtesy but also providing that essential context for readers. In her Guardian piece, Tory points out that Rathjen's reputation for sleaziness was long known: