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More turmoil at Sydney Conservatorium of Music with bullying allegations

Date

Anna Patty

After years of infighting and complaints about American bassoonist Kim Walker's controversial management style, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music is again alive with the sound of complaints about bullying against staff.

Languages teacher Nicole Dorigo has lodged a bullying complaint with the Fair Work Commission and is disputing what she claims is a sham redundancy.

It is understood that Ms Dorigo, who declined to talk to Fairfax Media, believes her troubles started after she complained about staff monitoring policies which included students recording classes on their smart phones.

In emails obtained by Fairfax Media the conservatorium's dean, Karl Kramer, an American tubist and brass chamber music expert, discusses Ms Dorigo's redundancy with the human resources department. He complains about her asking what she should tell her students about her departure.

In an email he sent on March 31, Dr Kramer says: "[It's] not her place to be delivering this kind of information to students. [W]ho died and left her queen? ... Duct tape can't fix stupid, but can muzzle it."

In another email on April 1 to human resources relationship manager Antoinette Holt, Dr Kramer says: "I'm not sure why we are beholden to Nicole but maybe there's something I'm missing. Isn't just 'please keep your mouth shut and act like a professional' enough right now? Talk to me oh wise one with the patience of Job."

In her correspendence with Dr Kramer over the matter, Ms Holt says "flattery will get you everywhere".

Dr Kramer, who signs his emails as "2K", makes a reference to "the nuclear option" in a discussion about his plans for Ms Dorigo in November last year.

In an email to other staff members sent on January 17, Dr Kramer says he has met with Ms Dorigo to inform her that her position is being made redundant.

He says: "Neither of you will be involved with this, but I wanted to let you know what is happening in case any students are brought into the middle. Hopefully this will not occur. Are we having fun yet?"

Dr Kramer declined to comment, saying: "I am not going to comment on any kind of issues which pertain to Ms Dorigo."

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said the university had clear policies about the use of appropriate language by staff. "When the emails in question were drawn to the university's attention, the dean was counselled about the language used," she said. "While these emails were not sent to the staff member in question and were not intended to be seen by her, he has expressed regret and formally apologised to her for the language used and any distress that may have been caused by it."

Fairfax Media understands Dr Kramer emailed an apology to Ms Dorigo on Wednesday, the same day the Herald made inquiries about his emails. His apology came months after the emails were sent to human resources staff.

A human resources officer was advising Ms Dorigo on a course of action at the same time that she was advising other staff about following appropriate complaint-handling steps with regard to Ms Dorigo. "If there's the perception that other matters have influenced a decision around her position status I would expect claims re adverse action/victimisation/bullying etc," an email from the officer to Dr Kramer said.  

The National Tertiary Education Union is representing Ms Dorigo. Its NSW secretary, Genevieve, Kelly said: "It is disappointing to see that there are still these problems at the conservatorium. Even after the removal of Kim Walker, complaints of bullying and harassment are continuing." 

"It seems inappropriate that the people dealing with the redundancy are the same ones who have had complaints of bullying made against them," Ms Kelly said.

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