I am writing now to express my utter fury and indignation at the fact that the University of Queensland’s toxic culture of official impunity and petty authoritarianism has now claimed further victims. What UQ stands credibly accused of by University of Amsterdam academic James Allan amounts to an attempt to suppress and intimidate junior academics with the temerity to stand up to the long-term bullying of powerful figures within the university.
In the case outlined here by Allan, UQ clearly sought to protect a powerful academic accused of long-term bullying by monitoring and reading the emails of those victims who complained to UQ in the belief that they would be fairly heard. UQ then preceded to stack the “investigation” against these victims so as to ensure no fair hearing would be possible.
This outrageous behaviour reminded me so much of my own experience dealing with UQ’s vicious, Kafkaesque bureacracy that I could not help but comment on the blatant hypocrisy of it all. When UQ sought to expel me for my public criticism of the university’s vast economic ties to the blood drenched Chinese government, UQ used charges of ”bullying” as a conveniant pretext to drag me through the dirt. So to see how they really deal with cases of bullying is revealing. What it very clearly demonstrates is a pattern of behaviour on the part of university administration officials: UQ’s pick-and-choose approach to investigating complaints of bullying ultimately ensures its internal disciplinary unit simply functions as a disciplinary arm of the administration to punish critics and reward allies.
Like Allan, who had his emails monitored by UQ in an attempt to undermine his case, I too was placed under UQ surveillance for offending against the Ancien Régime. Freedom of information requests ultimately revealed UQ produced at least 14,000 pages worth of documents on me in just two months to invent a case against me. They combed through my Facebook and social media to screenshot comments that could be used against me.
Take one particularly vile example: in a broken state just one week after the nationally covered suicide of a mate of mine at UQ, cruel trolls targeted me, saying I was happy my friend killed himself because it allowed me talk to the media. I responded the way any grieving twenty year old would: I lashed out with a spray of vitriol.
UQ then preceded to screenshot these exchanges, maliciously removing the context within which I was responding, using my vitriolic responses as proof I was a bully who had targeted these students unprovoked. They knew I lost my friend, a fellow UQ student. But this was an opportunity to expel me they simply could not pass up.
Did they consult the students involved? No, they simply behaved as though these students had already complained, bypassing them to bring charges of bullying against me. This would later prove extremely embarrassing to UQ when the students involved came forward to clarify that they never complained and were not bullied. In fact, they accused UQ of using them to manufacture complaints against me for political purposes.
Did UQ respond to this embarrassment by dropping the charge of bullying and dropping the expulsion attempt? Here’s where things became completely absurd. They somehow plowed forward, explaining to my barrister Tony Morris QC that they used an “objective” standard when defining bullying.
The torturous logic employed by UQ here was this: using an “objective” standard for bullying, it didn’t matter whether the students involved actually felt bullied. What mattered was whether a “reasonable person” would have felt bullied in the situation. UQ’s highly paid lawyers, partners at world leading law firm MinterEllison, concluded that a reasonable person would have felt bullied in the situation, so I could be expelled for bullying that did not occur in the actual physical world of existence, but on some higher abstract plane. In other words: a hypothetical individual in a context-less vacuum on the balance of probabilities would have felt bullied by my response to taunts over my friend’s suicide, so UQ was justified in continuing to seek the highest penalty possible: expulsion and a life-time ban from the university. It’s the type of utterly deranged argument only a well-paid coporate lawyer could make.
Compare UQ’s utterly deranged death drive to expel me for political purposes to Allan’s case involving the actual long term bullying of dozens of UQ academics in reality, ie this physical plane of existence. Allan suffered such intense anxiety as a result of his workplace bullying that he would ultimately be diagnosed with a form of PTSD. You would think given UQ’s rigorous anti-bullying standards, so rigorous in fact that they supposedly contain an ”objective standard” inbuilt into them that guards against even the possibility of bullying in the realm of abstraction, that in a case of intense bullying such as this Allan and fellow victims would see justice. Sadly, you would be mistaken, for it seems UQ picks and chooses the rules not according to any objective criteria, but according to what best suits them in any given case!
Was the powerful academic accused of bullying by dozens of staff removed from the university, as UQ sought in my case of supposed bullying? I was a twenty year-old who let off a few c-bombs in the face of cruel attempts to taunt me over the suicide of a friend. This was a senior academic who used his power to crush and belittle junior academics for years so as to ensure his own supremacy within the academic heirarchy. Surely, by the laws of consistency, UQ would seek his expulsion? Not so, because there is a key difference: I was a twenty year old they could pick on, whereas this was a powerful academic they wanted to protect to ensure research grants kept streaming in – remember, UQ’s senior administration officials are remunerated directly in accordance to UQ’s rankings in international research output indexes!
So UQ went after his victims, placing them under surveillance and deliberately sabotaging the investigation’s independence by allowing it to be conducted by an entity that depended upon the alleged bully for funding grants. The findings remain classified even after a full year of investigation, though we know the abuser remains firmly ensconced in his place within the system.
This too provides much material for reflection on UQ’s hypocrisy. Why was this process so opaque and so grindingly slow? When UQ wanted to get rid of me, they got it done fast. FOI requests show they begun the “investigation” into me just hours after senior university officials discussed one of my campus protests. The “investigation” concluded after approximately 3 weeks. Law firms were immediately brought on. The original timeline they called for allowed the entire process from investigation to expulsion hearing to be concluded in just 2 months, and there were initially no arrangements to allow me legal representation. I was completely blindsided. This gut punch left me suicidal.
UQ wanted an open and shut case against me. Because I was a administration critic, they started an investigation in search of a crime, decided they found crimes that warranted their preferred outcome of expulsion, then dropped everything, thinking a 20 year old couldn’t fight back. Unfortunately for them, one of Australia’s leading lawyers, Tony Morris QC, stepped in to battle them on my behalf for free. We gave them a run for their money, but the outcome was never much in doubt given the university assumed for itself a fusion of the roles of judge, jury and executioner.
I did not have a fair trial. The disciplinary boards charged with judging my expulsion were comprised of full time UQ employees who relied on the administration for career advancement. What hope was there for an independent decision when MinterEllison was instructing them on UQ’s behalf to seek the ”strongest possible penalty”?
Such was the pressure exerted on them that the chair of the disciplinary board that handed down a two year suspension against me, Professor Doune MacDonald, would later testify to multiple people that she felt used and discarded by UQ for her part played in this travesty. This was confirmed to me by an ABC journalist who was contacted by one of her friends.
Ultimately, UQ wielded manufactured bullying charges against me like a sledgehammer to secure their political interests, whereas in the case of James Allan they protected a powerful abuser accused by dozens. That’s all you need to know about UQ’s culture of official impunity and its disgusting hypocrisy as an institution. Under Chancellor Peter Varghese, a once decent public university has evolved into a world unto its own where staff, students and academics of good faith are held hostage to an administration that increasingly resembles a depraved Medieval court in its willingness to weaponize the law to punish the weak and reward the powerful. Like a horrified audience member awaiting the entrance of a Fortinbras to put an end to Hamlet’s brutal denouement, we are collectively reduced to a final hope that some higher authority will intervene to stop the carnage, and fast.