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Fluffy Ducks get Sydney Uni staff into hot water

It was not everyone's favourite. But the Fluffy Duck cocktail - made up of advocaat, Bacardi, lemonade and a nip of cream - was among alcoholic drinks served on a Friday afternoon at Sydney University.

Beer, wine and shots of spirits were also served when the university's student administration and recruitment office invited staff from other faculties to join it for drinks after work.

More than 20 staff from the department are now under investigation for alleged inappropriate spending on their corporate credit cards.

One university staff member from another faculty said they were invited to the Friday afternoon drinks which were held on a regular basis.

The staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the drinks expenditure on corporate credit cards as "excessive" and in breach of university protocols.

"They were purchasing the alcohol using public funds," the staff member said.


"It was all ticked off internally and didn't have to go up the line."

The staff member also questioned the department's use of public money on overseas travel and for an office table tennis table, on which the Friday afternoon drinks had been served.

However, staff within the student administration and recruitment department, which generates more than $1 billion in revenue, told Fairfax Media the spending on drinks was justified as part of staff team-building. A staff member said the overseas travel had helped bring in more high-fee paying overseas students than could have been recruited over a less expensive Skype call.

"This is an extremely high-performing team that often works weekends and evenings. We arrange things like the open days," a staff member said.

"The Friday night drinks was an opportunity to informally meet with a lot of your colleagues, build that office camaraderie.

"It was also a good opportunity to bring other people from other parts of the university and ... find out a lot of what was happening in the faculties."

The staff member said the drinks were often over by 6pm and mostly a "Dan Murphy's beer and a couple of pieces of cheese on a Jatz cracker".

The Fluffy Duck cocktail was served because "some of the staff didn't like beer or wine".

"There weren't Martinis or Sidecars or Gibsons," the staff member said.

Inspired by Google, a table tennis table was bought to give staff an opportunity to unwind and interact with other staff.

"It is used regularly at lunchtime and after work," the staff said.

The staff member said student recruiters flew economy class and had to "spend money to make money".

A spokeswoman for the University of Sydney said it takes the custodianship of taxpayer and student funds seriously and requires all staff to comply with its policies, including in relation to expenditure, without exception.

The University of Sydney is investigating 21 staff in relation to allegations of inappropriate spending of university funds.

Fairfax Media understands the university is auditing expenditure estimated at tens of thousands of dollars for entertainment including 16 birthday cakes, coffees with students, stationery and alcohol.

"The university takes any allegation of financial misconduct seriously," the spokeswoman said.

"At this stage, no formal findings of misconduct have been made against any of the staff members being questioned and the process is ongoing."

Staff were contacted last month and sent an email which threatens them with the sack if allegations of misconduct are proven. The letter from Tania Rhodes-Taylor from Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence's office also instructs staff under investigation against talking to anyone outside their immediate family about the investigation.

"The university takes the need for confidentiality very seriously and reserves the right to take disciplinary action if the confidentiality direction is not adhered to," Ms Rhodes-Taylor stated.

One employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said staff had been upset at the "suggestion they had been stealing from their employer".

"Staff were told on a Friday they would be getting formal correspondence on the Monday, but were not told what the charges were," the staff member said.

"It was a phone call that was read from a script."

Staff made written submissions and some were interviewed.

"It was thought that 16 birthday cakes were too many," the staff member said. "These were minor misdemeanours at worst. It was about whether taking a student out for a coffee was technically a meeting or entertainment."

The university spokeswoman said the university’s enterprise agreement required that when an allegation is made that employees "are given an opportunity to respond to the allegation before a finding is made".

The turmoil in the student administration department follows the departure of its executive director of Global Student Recruitment and Mobility, Michelle Carlin in September last year. It is not alleged that she is linked to the investigation of her former staff.

“I’m absolutely confident that this high achieving team have nothing to worry about," Ms Carlin said.

"I’m not sure what the reason behind this is, but it is disturbing to see good people placed under this sort of stress when they have just been trying to do the best by the university and their results more than reflect this.”

Ms Carlin's boss Tyrone Carlin, who is not related to her, stepped down from his position as deputy vice-chancellor (registrar) late last year to return to teaching and research. It is not alleged his departure is linked in any way to the investigation of staff.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence sent an email to staff in October saying he had accepted Professor Carlin's resignation.

"Tyrone has decided to step down from his DVC role at the end of this year in order to return to his substantive professorial position within the Business School," Professor Spence said.

"While it is sad to see him leave his current role, I am very pleased that he will be able to return to his teaching and research, and as such remain a valuable member of the University community."

Professor Spence credited Professor Carlin for transforming student administration.

"His oversight of the implementation of a whole of institution student administration team completed the ambitious and demanding agenda of moving student administrative functions from faculties and schools towards an integrated, whole of institution delivery approach," Professor Spence said.

Fairfax Media sought comment from Professor Carlin, but he did not respond.

In an unrelated matter, another deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Shane Houston, left his position last year. He has taken legal action over his dismissal as the University of Sydney's first deputy vice-chancellor for Aboriginal services.

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