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University of Adelaide confirms vice chancellor Peter Rathjen's resignation

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The University of Adelaide has today confirmed the exit of its vice chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen, citing “ill health” two months after it was revealed Rathjen was the subject of an ICAC investigation.

In an email to all staff and students today, the University’s newly-appointed chancellor Professor Catherine Branson explained that the University’s council had accepted the Vice-chancellor’s resignation. The email cited “ill heath” as the reason for Rathjen stepping away from the role he has held since 2018 .

“Professor Mike Brooks has been acting vice chancellor since Professor Rathjen was granted leave of absence in early May 2020, and I am grateful to Professor Brooks for the seamless continuity of leadership he is providing to our University community,” the email read.

The email marks one of Branson’s first acts in the new role, with her own appointment announced just last week. Her predecessor, the Honourable Kevin Scarce, retired from the role on 4 May several months ahead of schedule, a move that was quickly followed by news of Rathjen’s indefinite absence. The twin revelations sparked a tumultuous week for the University that saw ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander QC disclose that the then-vice chancellor was the subject of an investigation into allegations of “improper conduct”.

University of Adelaide
Chancellor Kevin Scarce and vice chancellor and president Peter Rathjen have now both officially resigned in the past two months

There has been no further update on the status of that probe since the Commissioner’s 7 May statement, in which he explained he was exercising the powers of the Ombudsman Act 1972 to investigate allegations of “potential issues of serious or systemic misconduct and maladministration”. Not, he noted, “corruption”:

Ordinarily I would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation because the legislation under which I operate is predicated upon investigations being conducted in private. Similarly any persons aware of an investigation being undertaken by my office are constrained as to the information they are able to disclose.

However, in light of the intense speculation regarding The University of Adelaide, and the likelihood that that speculation will continue and potentially lead to an unnecessary negative impact on the University’s operations, I have decided to make this public statement.

“I have commenced an investigation in respect of allegations of improper conduct by the Vice-Chancellor of The University of Adelaide. I am also investigating the manner in which the University dealt with those allegations. The University has committed to providing full cooperation with my investigation. I do not intend to comment further on the nature of the allegations.”

In her email, Branson said the University would offer further updates on the search for Rathjen’s replacement “in due course”.

“In the meantime, our focus will remain on the continued delivery of high-quality teaching, learning and research, supporting the State’s social and economic needs, and responding to the challenges faced by our community from the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”

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Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country.

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