Sunday, September 15, 2013

An Examination of Suspected Official Misconduct at an Australian University

The Queensland the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) released "An examination of suspected official misconduct at the University of Queensland", 13 September 2013. The report concerns the University of Queensland (UQ) offering a place in its medical program to someone who had not met the requirements for admission, but was the daughter of the then Vice-Chancellor (VC). After the matter was reported to the CMC and became public, both the VC and previous acting-VC resigned. As the report points out, this incident is important in highlighting that conflicts of interest need to be dealt with transparently in public organizations, including universities.

While several Australia states have independent commissions to investigate misconduct, there is no such body covering  the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), nor federal agencies. As a result, universities in Canberra do not have an independent body to which staff and students can report misconduct. Internal procedures are not sufficient and I suggest such a body should be established to cover all ACT and Federal public bodies (including universities established under federal and ACT legislation).
The importance of what happened at the University of Queensland goes beyond the specific events of 2010. The originating issue — a conflict of interest involving persons of considerable power in the institution — could arise in any unit of public administration. The issues raised by this series of events at the University of Queensland are important ones, with wider application across the public sector.
Conflicts of interest can and will occur at all levels of the public sector. However, they may not always be immediately evident — they may arise out of a request for assistance, a casual conversation or an oblique suggestion, hence the difficulty in identifying them as a potentially improper exercise of influence.
To ensure that conflicts of interest are dealt with transparently, important principles or practices should be accepted and adopted by all publicly funded entities. In particular, it is essential to:
  • have robust policies that help and encourage officers to identify, declare and report conflicts of interest
  • ensure merit and equity is the basis for selection in publicly funded organisations
  • keep documentation that details the matters in conflict and the parties involved, the process followed by the decision makers, and the manner in which the conflict was resolved
  • develop a culture in which integrity issues can be raised openly with senior managers
  • instil an attitude in staff that a perceived conflict between integrity and personal loyalty to senior colleagues should not prevent the reporting of suspected misconduct.
From: "An examination of suspected official misconduct at the University of Queensland", Queensland the Crime and Misconduct Commission, 13 September 2013.

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