Staff and students within the Australian National University’s school of politics and international relations have complained of a toxic culture of bullying, an exodus of staff and students and high levels of dysfunction.
It is believed that at least seven formal complaints have been laid against senior members of staff and two Comcare cases have been won by two 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 many of the investigations are ongoing.
"The university takes very seriously its duty of care to all of our staff. There are a range of complex staffing and management issues that the university is currently investigating. The investigation of grievances is confidential for legal reasons, including the requirements of the Privacy Act," a spokeswoman said.
The complaints have largely centred around vulgar language and abuse and the way in which staff have been pressured to take on unreasonable workloads. Female academics, who are poorly represented within senior ranks at the school, believe they have born the brunt of excessive demands and have been discriminated against when they have attempted to meet family responsibilities.
Underlying tensions have been exacerbated by budget constraints and staff workload increases as the school has been forced to share in $1.4 million worth of budget cuts within the College of Arts and Social Sciences.
Meanwhile, 11 preeminent academics have left the ANU, or moved out of the school of politics and international relations and into other parts of the university over the past 12 months.
The National Tertiary Education Union confirmed it was dealing with an unprecedented number of aggrieved members who had raised “a range of serious grievances … about inappropriate behaviour, unreasonable or inequitable treatment, excessive teaching demands and refusals to approve legitimate research activities.”
ACT division secretary Stephen Darwin said the “apparent dysfunction in the school is a direct consequence of the relentless budget cuts that are affecting this and many other teaching areas at ANU’’.
But one academic said the cultural problems at the school centred around the management style of one individual – at whose hands a number of people had suffered significant psychological harm. The academic said that despite numerous formal complaints being made through appropriate channels at the ANU, no action had been taken – allowing the bullying culture to thrive and snowball.
Another academic said the ANU had shown contempt for its staff by allowing them to continue to work in such hostile conditions.
“The vice-chancellor has been briefed, in person and through multiple written documents, about seven formal grievances and two approved Comcare claims for psychological harm – all related to bullying and filed by staff members at the same college over nine months … We are now waiting to see what action he will take,” he said.