Professor Kim Walker goes out on a high note

In recent weeks I’ve dropped in to the Conservatorium of Music (aka the Con) a few times to go to the library.

I could hardly fail to notice the various functions bidding farewell to the outgoing dean, Kim Walker. It all seemed a bit OTT, but what the hell – if she had a cult of personality going, she was the Dean and she could cultivate it as much as she liked right up to the end of her tenure. [Her appointment as professor ostensibly at least continues. At her farewell she said that she was taking research leave next year.] After all, it was for a good cause. Some of the brouhaha was to raise funds for the Con, as best I can recall.

The Con is not a separate legal personality. Even if funds are raised for the charitable purposes of the Con, it won’t mean much if in the meantime the funds which the University could otherwise devote to the Con are being depleted.

And it looks like that will be the case, at least so far as the University has to meet the claims now being made by Professor Walker in her statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court, as reported by the SMH here.

In the light of the statement of claim, OTT understates the matter. The word, in its proper sense, is “fulsome” – though maybe not by all involved. (Professor Walker had her supporters and I am sure they were sincere. In the circumstances, you can understand their desire to make a show of their support.) It seems that the university only backed off from removing Professor Walker in late 2008 because she threatened legal action.

Farewells fondly bidden, Professor Walker is now suing the university for rendering her unemployable at an appropriate senior level because of the way it handled what she says (to paraphrase: these are my own words) were intrigues and baseless complaints against her. I don’t doubt she believes that. You can see her quaver a little in her farewell speech on Youtube (from about 7:30 to 13:00 including tumultous applause). She doesn’t spoil it by mentioning the proposed statement of claim, though instructions to draft it must surely have been given by then.

[Incidentally, what is it about Guy Reynolds Noble [Reynolds SC is someone else!] that he has become the compulsory MC for all seasons. Is there nobody else?]

The statement of claim includes the claim (as reported by the SMH) that:

In early 2007, after Walker had been offered a 10 year contract as Dean of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York State, she was persuaded to stay in Sydney by the then Chancellor, the late Justice Kim Santow, who told her ‘‘that she was unique and able to lead the institution over the next years to the (Con’s) centenary in 2015.’’

So far as lost opportunities are concerned, that looks like a fairly crucial element of Professor Walker’s claim. Obviously, she now regrets she didn’t take the Eastman job. That is because the rumblings of discontent came to public notice and the various allegations against her were made shortly afterwards and that’s when everything went pear-shaped. From Professor Walker’s point of view, as far as I can gather, she declined an offer of a very prestigious job which would have lasted until 2017 because she was told she would have one until at least 2015. Now (it turns out) she’s been shown the door or at least bumped out of the top office as dean and principal (albeit, with a big farewell) and the bad publicity from all that’s gone on means that she won’t get such a job again. It’s too late for her to go back to playing the bassoon.

The awkward (or convenient – depending on your perspective) thing is that, if any of this hinges on private conversations between Professor Walker and Justice Santow, Justice Santow died in April 2008.

5 Responses to “Professor Kim Walker goes out on a high note”

  1. Simon Johnson Says:

    You make light of her complaints, but don’t forget repeated claims of plagiarism are designed to destroy an academic career, and when does repeated claims none substantiated verge into harassment. If we look at the source of this we find a man promoted to Chair of the Academic Board, someone who the Gyles rep0rt said should not be put in any position of authority over the COn, now that’s odd

    • marcellous Says:

      Simon

      I don’t make light of Walker’s complaints especially since she makes some pretty serious complaints about others. Talk about conduct that “verges on harassment” is pretty amorphous and anyway in the context of Walker’s time as dean it seems to me that that is a bit of a two-way street.

      As to the Gyles report, there’s not much I can say about reference to part only of a report which remains secret. I can’t therefore say what is odd or not – though as far as I can gather the Chair of the Academic Board is elected rather than appointed, in which case you can’t really say that someone has been “promoted to Chair of the Academic Board.”

  2. M-H Says:

    Yes, the Chair of Academic Board is elected by the academic staff of the University. It is not a position within the management structure of the University; in fact there are some ways in which it could be said that Academic Board opposes managerial decisions.

    Interesting stuff, this. Brings up many issues, including notions of what academic freedom is and how much power Deans actually do have.

    • marcellous Says:

      M-H:

      elected directly or by the members of the board? I had thought the latter.

      • M-H Says:

        You’re right, by the members of the board – who are themselves elected by their faculties. So, yes, at a second remove. But the Chair is not considered a ‘promotion’, nor is the person in that position thought of (at Sydney) as part of the Senior Executive Group that makes policy under the VC. This is a new group, instituted by the present VC, and its position vis-a-vis Academic Board wasn’t clear under that last Chair. This Chair seems to have moved things along in this regard.

        What’s not always understood (even by academics) is that ‘real promotion’ (that is, personal promotion based on academic work) is from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer, then to Associate Prof, then to full Prof. Other positions that people might hold, such as Head of Department, Associate Dean or Dean (or, indeed, Chair of Academic Board), are time-limited, and many people do them for, say, three years, then return to their teaching and research role. So an AssProf may be HoD for three years, then give that up and continue being AssProf. They don’t feel demoted, nor that they have to then move on to Dean. These positions are kind of a parallel stream of heirarchy, for administrative purposes, and many academics never occupy any of them; their ambition is to succeed in their research to make Prof and they get on with that. A Faculty may have five Profs, two of whom are former Deans, but who now get on with their academic work (never, as you can imagine, undermining the present Dean!).

        Of course, there are people who, having achieved a status of, say AssProf and a position of HoD or an Associate Dean, beaver away and get a promotion to Prof with the idea of becoming Dean, and then moving into the central structure of (usually another) University as a DVC or similar. But for most academics, these positions are done in rotation, despite the fact that they interfere mightily with research and teaching, as a form of service to the institution which, although not sufficient on its own, may also help with promotion in the long term.

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