When redundancy strikes...

NOT even the jobs of full professors are safe when cost-cutting managers decide staff must go.


Reprinted from Campus Review, Vol. 7, No. 33, August 27-September 2, 1997, p. 11, with permission. For more information about Campus Review, see http://www.camrev.com.au.

This article is located on the

Suppression of dissent website

in the section on Documents

in the subsection on the Dudley Pinnock case.

WHEN Professor Dudley Pinnock was invited by the University of Adelaide to take up a position created for him as a reader in insect pathology, he did not suspect that nearly 20 years on the university would make him redundant.

At the time of the Adelaide approach, Pinnock held a tenured position as associate professor of entomology at the University of California at Berkeley.

As he says, he naturally assumed that the job being offered in Australia was similarly permanent.

Six years after taking up the post, Pinnock was appointed head of Adelaide's entomology department.

After two international recruiting campaigns by the university to find a new professor, Pinnock, who had not applied for the job, says he was asked to stand.

He did so and was appointed Waite Professor of Entomology and head of the department.

Over the next few years, Pinnock obtained substantial external funds to build an insect pathology laboratory, a new quarantine insectary and an entomology glasshouse.

He says the entomology syllabus and subject content were revised and the students who graduated were regarded as the best trained in Australia by employers such as CSIRO.

Trail-blazing research was conducted in the department and, with morale high, the academic staff in 1988 unanimously re-elected Pinnock departmental head.

This year, Pinnock had expected to have a full undergraduate teaching load, and seven research students.

He says he also generated $330,000 in extramural research funding from industry although it was blocked or returned to the funding companies.

"I am, by student evaluation survey, one of the best, if not the best, teacher in the department and my research students have won more Browning Medals, the department's highest student award, than those of any other supervisor," Pinnock says.

His relations with a number of senior academics, however, were not so convivial and [Pinnock] says he was involved in several disputes.

Then, late in 1996, he discovered he had been targeted for redundancy.

In response to government funding cuts, the university decided to reduce expenditure by using what Pinnock claims were enforced redundancies instead of voluntary separations. In December, Pinnock was advised that his position had been declared redundant.

"Until then I was unaware the university would even consider making redundant staff who, like myself, had taken up senior academic positions by invitation," he says.

"In an extraordinary move which, in my opinion made the effects of a bad decision even worse, the power to target individuals in each faculty was given solely to the deans and through them, the heads of departments.

It appears there were no checks or balances put in place to ensure that the targeting process was fair, reasonable and free of personal bias" - a charge the university authorities deny.

Last January, the university administration gave Pinnock the reasons for identifying his position as redundant.

Some weeks later he responded, arguing that the reasons were either untrue, or were applicable to many other academics in the department and the university, and were not valid.

In March, Pinnock received a letter stating that "the university is of the opinion that there is no further comment to be made, and that therefore your arguments would be best placed before the Review Committee established to hear appeals".

The committee heard Pinnock's appeal in May. His submission included his history of events and supporting documentation, and his rebuttal of the reasons stated by the university for redundancy.

The following month, the committee reported that, "For the reasons we have given we do not consider the university has been shown to have failed to follow fair process in declaring the applicant redundant."

Asked to comment on Pinnock's claims - and his account of his experiences on the World Wide Web (see accompanying story) - Adelaide vice-chancellor Professor Mary O'Kane referred his statement to the university's lawyers.

A spokesman for O'Kane said some of Pinnock's website comments were [inaccurate] and potentially defamatory of certain members of staff.

The spokesman said the university believed proper processes had been followed and that Professor Pinnock had been given the opportunity to appeal but the review committee had found against him.

Pinnock says he knows of no case where open and constructive discussions were had with staff members, in the department, the faculty or in the academic board, on how budget savings could best be made to minimise adverse impacts on teaching, on research and on the careers and livelihoods of individual staff members.

Instead, it appeared that "the deans, in consultation with department heads, were given carte blanche to target individuals as they saw fit".

"These decisions were made behind closed doors and the names of the targeted individuals were then passed by the dean directly to the senior management group, which implemented the enforced redundancy procedures.

"The risk of misuse of this apparently untrammelled power is obvious: it created a unique opportunity for heads or deans to remove persons expressing dissenting views or persons they deemed inconvenient, for example, whistleblowers, perceived rivals, those occupying space they wanted to take over, or those they simply disliked."

With his appeal unsuccessful, as were those of all but two other appellants whose cases were heard, Pinnock was forced to leave the university on July 25.

Almost immediately he was employed by Microbial Products.

Apart from what he sees as the injustice of his treatment, Pinnock says it was especially galling that there were people at Adelaide who had the power to destroy his professional career.

"I have copies of some of the letters to the university chancellor from leading insect pathologists in the world attesting to my international status. All, apparently, to no avail."

In a statement for inclusion in this article, O'Kane, said her university had followed the procedures set out in the academic award and the review committee had found no grounds for Pinnock's appeal.

"The redunancy process was very painful for the entire university, and was obviously distressing for staff who lost their jobs", O'Kane said.

"This is a direct result of the Government's cuts to university budgets and, in South Australia, we have copped the full measure of cuts due to the lack of demographic growth.

"The university wishes Professor Pinnock well in all his future endeavours", O'Kane added.



The conflict that led to the ultimate dismissal of Professor Dudley Pinnock appears to date back to 1990 when a new dean and director was appointed to the Waite Institute.

In August that year, Pinnock protested to the vice-chancellor at plans by the dean to amalgamate the departments of entomology and plant pathology.

Despite concerns expressed by academics affected by the change, the amalgamation went ahead with the new department titled Crop Protection.

The following year, a reduction in faculty funding resulted in a decision to transfer the cost of most of the departmentally-funded technical staff to outside research grants.

Pinnock learned his departmentally-funded, full-time technician was to be withdrawn, leaving him without support for research and teaching, and, he claims, giving him no chance of obtaining a research grant at short notice.

"As far as I am aware, I was singled out as the only member of staff to be receive what I believe to be harsh and unreasonable treatment," he says.

On another occasion, Pinnock again protested to the vice-chancellor after two senior academics had approached an outside organisation that had been funding his research proposing that it be stopped.

The then deputy VC (research) later told Pinnock he had written to the academics noting his belief that they "had erred" in writing as they did to the funding agency.

He also contacted the funding agency and the research grant remained with Pinnock for the remainder of the grant period. But Pinnock's request for a continuation of research funding was unsuccessful.

The outcome was that all of Pinnock's research support had been cut off.

By 1994, however, there was sufficient interest in his research results that he was able to arrange for two post-doctoral fellows to be funded by a university spin-off company, Microbial Products (which later became fully privatised and was then to employ Pinnock).

But the following year, he claims, the two researchers were ordered off campus over concerns, which Pinnock regards as unsubstantiated, over the university's occupational health and safety liability.

The senior academic who issued the order later said the reason was the "potential for situations to arise" and mentioned conflict of interest, confusion over resources and security of property, which he claimed could occur if the two PDFs continued to work on campus.

A further threat to Pinnock's research program was revealed when he discovered that the purpose-built and funded insect pathology laboratory was to be handed over to the department of soil science, with Pinnock shifted to inadequate facilities in the Waite building.

Research fermenters, university equipment essential for Pinnock's research, were ordered to be moved off-campus.

Rural research agencies which had funded the laboratory wrote to the vice-chancellor expressing concern that the laboratory might be used for a purpose other than that for which it was funded, and sought assurance that Pinnock's research program would not be impeded by lack of adequate facilities.

With his research support cut off, and his researchers ordered off campus, Pinnock arranged for Microbial Products (by this time an independent company) to join with the university in an application for an ARC collaborative research grant for $360,000 over three years.

But he says the application was blocked when senior staff refused to approve it.

"Even though the project could have been conducted entirely within the then existing facilities in the laboratory, the reason given was that the department 'was not in a position to put departmental facilities towards the support of the research proposal'," Pinnock says.

The outcome of these various actions was a reduction in Pinnock's external grants from a 15-year average up to 1993 of more than $270,000 per year to zero by 1994-5.

After Pinnock again protested, this time to the university council, the vice-chancellor set up a committee of inquiry.

The committee submitted its report but Pinnock says it failed to attach his submission or his complaint that at least one member of the committee was biased against him.

When Pinnock sought a copy of the report he says this was denied.

With help from the Staff Association, the report was finally released but although he sent a detailed rebuttal to the vice-chancellor and the staff association, no further action was taken.

Professor Malcolm Oades, head of the division of agricultural and natural resource sciences at Adelaide, told Campus Review that Pinnock's allegations were untrue and that the university's lawyers would be handling the issue.

"His position was made redundant for very good reasons," Oades said. "The redundancy was entirely justifiable from my point of view. This was not something one wanted to do but it was brought on by financial stringencies."

Pinnock, who is currently overseas on a business trip, recorded the details of his case in a World Wide Web page set up by Dr Brian Martin of Wollongong University.

As reported elsewhere in this edition of Campus Review, Martin has now removed the Pinnock material from his site dealing with academic dissent.