The Human Rights Commission is looking at claims of bullying and gender discrimination within the Australian National University.
Academics within the school of political science and international relations have called on the commission to consider investigating the school’s management culture, which they allege allows bullying and harassment, unreasonable workloads and discrimination against female academics.
During the past fortnight, a senior staff member who worked on the commission’s review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force attended a private meeting with eight affected academics on campus. Six were women.
It is believed the academics are preparing evidence to substantiate formal complaints to the commission. The commission refused to comment.
The moves by staff to instigate an external investigation into workplace culture within the school have come after months of rising internal tensions.
It is believed that at least seven formal complaints have been laid against senior members of staff, and two Comcare cases have been awarded to academics who suffered psychological damage at the hands of one senior manager during their time at the school.
The ANU has refused to comment on the situation, citing privacy reasons and the fact that many of the investigations are continuing.
Work strains and a lack of morale among staff seem to be having an impact on students, with the latest student evaluation scores falling for the first time within the school of politics and international relations.
Average student evaluation scores for all ANU politics courses have been either 4 out of 5 or 4.1 since 2010, when the evaluation system was put in place.
But by second semester last year, the average score had dropped to 3.8, and those within the school expect this semester’s scores to fall even further.
ANU Students’ Association president Cameron Wilson said the association was ‘‘concerned about allegations of internal turmoil at the school’’.
‘‘We’ll be working with our college of arts and social science representatives to find out whether students have been affected.’’
The National Tertiary Education Union said it was not surprised that students were feeling the effects of staff changes and poor morale.
ACT division president Stephen Darwin said the exodus of pre-eminent academics during the past year – 11 senior academics have either left the school, relocated to other areas of the ANU or retired – was symptomatic of disquiet over management style and workload issues, precipitated by savage budget cuts across the school.
‘‘It is unsurprising to see student evaluations fall, and it seems to reflect the broader demise across the school,’’ Mr Darwin said.
He noted that moves by affected staff to call for an independent inquiry by the Human Rights Commission was the direct result of management failing to bring about a timely resolution to the issues.
‘‘The fact that we have these serious grievances still being investigated and that two Comcare cases have been accepted suggests the ANU should have done something sooner.’’
It appears, however, that female staff within the school have battled issues of gender discrimination for years.
A group of concerned female academics, postgraduates and PhD students banded together in 2009 to voice their experiences to university management in a report that was never made public.
Senior male academics were given gender awareness training as a result.