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Home  >  The social experiment
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The whole story: names, dates, events. All in the Brief (pdf).
Don't want to wade through the details? Read the summary.
Responses to the summary.
For the general view, see the opposition.
Griffithgate: mirror of decay - why it matters to You.
An example of a misguided evaluation.

The question always is: do you complain and run the risk of being annoying, or keep quiet and run the risk of inviting all kinds of assumptions about your current status? You are damned if you do and you are damned if you don't.

So, if someone wonders why I am not sashaying around conferences and giving keynote speeches, I tell them it is because criminals like Griffith Vice-Chancellor Ian O'Connor and certain other staff committed fraud in order to protect one of their own.

Skip to Griffith University →

What happened at the University of Queensland (UQ):
It is now February 2012, almost three weeks after the last article about the following matter appeared; it seems the affair has run its course (but one never knows).

On the 5th of November readers of the Courier Mail, the metropolitan Brisbane daily, were astonished to learn that University of Queensland's Vice-Chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger "will leave their positions" after an investigation revealed entry requirements had been lowered to favour a student seeking enrolment in a course. The name of the student was not released, nor was the course itself mentioned. Chancellor John Story had ordered the investigation.

Two days later it was reported the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) was investigating yet another enrolment irregularity. State Education Minister Cameron Dick "urged" the university to "consider greater accountability". Naturally enough, some parents of students who received a top tertiary entry score but had not been admitted are starting to complain. The university's Senate allowed Professor Greenfield to keep his position until his official retirement in May 2012.

8th of November: a newly-established investigatory body, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), says it will look into the matter unless UQ provides it with all the details. More letters to the editor arrive. An "old and retired lecturer" at UQ says mistakes are being made all the time and a certain number of students must be given top marks and/or a "fail" regardless of the quality of work. Financial pressure is cited which ensures that assessments are made under non-academic auspices.

By November 9th no further details about the course nor the student were released, and that includes the "independent legal report" into the affair. Speculations are growing. Bill de Maria, an ethics lecturer at UQ, pens a column calling the scandal "bizarre" and questions what is really going on. He describes Professor Greenfield as being at the pinnacle of his career and wonders how such a man can be stood down over something as relatively trivial as a problematic enrolment. Don't blame me for my musings, he writes, everyone is kept in the dark. According to him, the university is "one of the most secretive central institutions in the state".

On the 10th we read that the affair involves "a close relative" as admitted by the VC himself. Still, it was "just a misunderstanding". UQ Emeritus Professor Thor Hundloe argues that over the years the management structure of universities has changed for the worse. It is far more hierarchical now, with the potential for the top echelon to influence academic decisions further down.

Stephen Bartos, a former professor of governance at UQ, raises the question of accountability since universities are first and foremost public institutions, hence should be answerable to the public. Traditionally, university governance models have been very weak.

On the 15th of November the VC issues a "21 seconds" statement which offers nothing new.

Bill de Maria comes in again on the 17th, telling his readers the university "has gone into complete shutdown". Staff walk around the campus "with their lips zippered closed", because their input is "unwelcome"; the campus is "fear-driven".

By the 19th the CMC demands answers as Bond University Vice-Chancellor Robert Stable says UQ must come clean because of the damage done to other universities.

Yet the vice-chancellors of the other leading universities around Australia have closed ranks behind Professor Greenfield, who just happens to be their chairman. They did not ask for and were not given any explanations about the matter. Despite the official silence it seems the School of Medicine is at the centre.

By the 24th UQ Associate Professor David Colquhoun urges Professor Greenfield to step down immediately. "There is anger, great anger. Quote me as saying that".

25th of November: Brisbane barrister Greg Williams makes a complaint to police, because the "university is acting like a secretive and paranoid government department". He also asks, "Why me? Why am I doing this? There are thousands of academics at the university. Why haven't more of them stepped up to demand accountability? It's shameful."

A day later James Thomas, retired Supreme Court judge and described as a "top ethicist", asks the VC to forget his right to privacy and reveal the full story. His status and duty demand it.

On the 30th of November David Muir, who set up Crime Stoppers, used to be state president of Amnesty International and is now a director of the Foodbank charity, warns that the university risks losing major philanthropic donors.

On the 3rd of December it is reported that the CMC is still unhappy with the explanations coming from UQ.

10th December: Professor Greenfield has been removed from his post and will leave next week. The paper reports on the 16th that according to a memo on the university's website a "close relative" of the VC was picked for entry into its medical course despite failing to qualify.

We learn that the new university graduates (it is the middle of December) do not want to talk about the scandal. And State Premier Anna Bligh thinks the matter is for the university to deal with.

On his page Des Houghton tells of a medical student who was given the cold shoulder, even vilified, once she complained about shortcomings at the Medical School.

And finally (so far), barrister Greg Williams who complained to the police, says there is a "culture of fear" in the state, which prevents people from speaking out against misconduct. The resultant lack of accountability extends across government departments, the university, even the CMC. Not only were his reports to the Crime and Misconduct Commission not fully investigated, back in 1995 he was made aware of the risks of whistleblowing after reporting misconduct at a government department.

14 June 2013 update: The CMC, Queensland's anti-corruption watchdog, is under investigation after the slow pace of probing UQ; 18 months have passed and there is still no result. It now emerges the CMC coordinated the media responses with the university, including advance warnings about questions regarding Phil Procopis, a senior UQ staffer who raised the alarm about the alleged nepotism and who was later made redundant. Mr Procopis also had a part-time job with the CMC's audit committee.

The closely-knit, parochial nature of Queensland society comes to the fore once again. Such is the overall quality of this demographic that even supposedly independent entities at a relatively higher educational level are bound to reveal cross-links between their members and the rest because the state is such a small place.

15 September 2013 update: The Crime and Misconduct Commission has released its report into the affair. When then vice-chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield tried to have his daughter admitted to a medicine degree course ahead of 343 other students with better qualifications, he made what was described as a "threatening phone call" to the head of the school of medicine. A "small group" of senior staff knew about the "irregularities" but did not report them. Yet the former vice-chancellor faces no charges and his daughter is still a student at the school. In the report itself background information and names have been blanked out, and a separate report by the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Commission into the CMC's handling of the case "has 49 pages blanked out".

So much for the UQ story.

Several similarities to the Griffith affair stand out. There is the default state of secrecy, a tenacity to hold on to the status quo that will only be breached once public disquiet has been raised to sufficiently high levels. There is the cliquish mutual protection among a small band of individuals whose sense of responsibility stops at their club's door. And we have the other, lower members of such a system who, while obviously not part of the inner sanctum, nevertheless absorb enough of its ambience to know better than to speak out openly.

Having been in position of leadership myself, I know how a culture begins at the top. Whether as an instructor in the army, as a pilot, as a dive leader, or as a skipper on a yacht, how you conduct yourself directly influences the rest of the team. No detailed rules and paragraphs are necessary; the atmosphere is sensed and everyone acts accordingly. Open and consistently applied rules are appreciated by everyone, but secrecy and favouritism are also recognised and what you have is a culture of fear as mentioned above so many times. As a result everyone suffers and even positives become tinged with the rot.

Queensland is somewhat unique in terms of its demographic type. A very large geographical area, its population spread across thousands of square kilometers and an often unforgiving terrain and climate, urban centres are few and far between with the capital nestled in the far southeastern corner. Historically it has been a land of relatively few, and so a ruling political class has emerged based on such incestuous and self-serving collectives. Exposure to a more competitive and socially challenging world had been kept to a minimum. Although academia works within different scopes, the overall ambience is still Queensland - the history of a place does not disappear so easily.

As the scandal at the University of Queensland shows, it takes a considerable amount of pressure to crack the walls of such a culture, and even then one is left wondering how much all that matters to the average citizen and hence their representatives.

Combine a culture of fear at a university with the general ignorance about the wider world among the rest of the population and the attempt by Griffith University's vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor to get money from Saudi Arabia barely raises a few comments here and there (if that link doesn't work try the ABC). Shades of 1975? Those who can be expected to understand what a regime such as Saudi Arabia's means in the daily affairs of its citizens won't speak out and those that don't, well, since they don't know it doesn't touch them either. Let's also not forget that it was Saudi Arabia who led a force that suppressed an uprising against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain. A graphic documentary is "Bahrain - Forbidden Images" (Bahrain - Verbotene Bilder, ARTE France); it carries the warning "Not suitable for viewers under the age of 16". Mark Levine, professor of Middle Eastern history at University California Irvine and visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden, describes that country as "one of the world's most ruthless and oppressive dictatorships", "the epitome of how disastrous the mixing of absolute monarchy and uncompromising religious conservatism can be". "Beyond its internal politics, from West Africa to Southeast Asia and most places between it's hard to think of an anti-American or Western jihadi movement that hasn't been supported by senior Saudis at one time or another", he writes in an assessment of the US-Saudi relationship. That a vice-chancellor of an Australian university gets away with sidling up to a bunch of people who actively oppress freedom and democracy is quite extraordinary, yet not out of line when considering what other conduct he has condoned if not aided. This is treason; vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor is a traitor (it may help to consult a dictionary for the meaning of the word 'traitor').

Then again, Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States, hence presumably our ally as well. Of course, there is the old Roman adage "Tell me who your friends are and I tell you who you are"; but I forget, this is so "old Europe".

How disastrous an often naive involvement with Middle Eastern affairs can turn out to be is shown in the case of journalist Peter Greste who worked for Qatar's news service al Jazeera when reporting in Egypt during that country's regime change from Muslim Brotherhood to a military takeover. Mr Greste was arrested, charged with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and has been sentenced to seven years in jail, all on evidence that was highly questionable if not non-existent. As Dennis Atkins from Brisbane's Courier Mail points out, al Jazeera is located and financed in Qatar, a rival to Saudi Arabia (should someone wonder why a nation of a few thousand pearl hunters can suddenly spend about US$130 million establishing a news service one could do worse than starting with the scientific and technological ingenuity of the West). Saudi Arabia stands firmly behind Egypt's new president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, an enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood. This being the Middle East with all its volatile Islamic and tribal affiliations and factions, an al Jazeera journalist is not welcome in Egypt, especially when reporting on that country's political affairs. Most Westerners hardly understand the political and religious maze the Islamic world represents, let alone the emotional intensity that goes with it. Whether as single individuals or at the level of governments, it is obvious it has yet a lot to learn. What influence Saudi Arabia could have wielded in Australia had it been allowed to operate from Griffith University's Nathan campus is anyone's guess. What is less opaque is the mindset driving the Muslim mindset overall; see Excerpts from the Koran for the 544 belligerent passages found in that book. It is this mindset a university would have associated itself with.

(Note - 18 November 2015: The Paris attacks by Muslim extremists have once again pointed to home-grown as well as externally sponsored fanaticism. Europe and the world has to pay. It has emerged that some of the attackers have come from Molenbeek, a Brussels suburb featuring a large Muslim population. Why Brussels? As Kristof Clerix from The Guardian writes, "..the Islamic experience in Belgium has characteristics that differ from other European countries. There is a lack of local imams; most of the imams have been imported from abroad or educated there. Belgian security services point to an important religious influence from Wahhabi Islam, "sponsored" by Saudi Arabia through the Grand Mosque in Brussels". Saudi Arabia has been compared to Daesh; it "is better dressed and neater but does the same things", as Kamel Daoud writes in the New York Times, "Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It". And here was the vice-chancellor of an Australian university trying to facilitate such an influence right here.

Note - 21 April 2016: Fast forward five months and counter-terrorism expert Hayder al-Khoei from the Lowy Institute appears on ABC TV The Drum discussing the threat of ISIS. He names Saudi Arabia as a country which provides the environment where terrorist groups like ISIS flourish. Now imagine Griffith University would have been turned into such an environment)

Ian OConnor photo Woman photo
What would Griffith's vice chancellor Ian O'Connor (above left) and company talk about at parties designed for people at $804,999 (!) p.a. income? Their conversations would probably not include the fate of Indonesian maid Sumiati BT Salan Mustapa (above right), a victim of Saudi Arabia's migrant worker laws which are notoriously open to abuse.

A couple of thematic maps are interesting. Under "Population Characteristics" > "Persons completed Year 11 or 12 (Per cent)" > "Census year" > "2006" > "Local Government Area 2010" > Create Thematic we notice a few pockets of 42.25% or greater, representing Brisbane and a couple of local councils to the west. There is a broad band of council areas extending from Cairns in the north to the southern border where the percentage is less than 28.75%, including major coastal areas. Select "Population Estimates" > "Estimated Resident Population (Number)" > "Financial Year" > "2010" > "Local Government Area 2010" > Create Thematic and we see that the lowest educational indicators coincide with the highest population densities (with the exception of Brisbane). Combine the social factors mentioned before with the political clout that comes with density and a distinct cultural background emerges.

On that note Roly Sussex, who, as Emeritus Professor of Applied Language Studies at the University of Queensland would know a thing or two about the merits of education, gave us these remarkable statistics: in Finland all Year 12 students study Finnish, Swedish and English, and 70% study a fourth language; in Australia 13.4% of Year 12 students learn even one other language, and for Queensland the figure is 5.8%. Keep in mind that those youngsters grow into adults and over the years put their own stamp on society.

The absence of significant history does not help. A society's past makes for cultural memory that informs, alerts, soothes, and strengthens; it leads to wisdom. Centuries and millennia are needed to forge a people's soul. Those without will never understand the difference. As for academia, there are lecturers at Griffith University who have never heard of Gaudeamus igitur. To them my words won't make sense - they just don't know.

(Sources: Courier Mail, 5 Nov 11, D Houghton, "Caught Out", 7 Nov, D Houghton, "Third Degree"; 8 Nov, D Houghton, "Federal agency wants UQ answers", readers' letters, "Under pressure at university"; 9 Nov, D Houghton, "It's Time To Come Clean", B de Maria, "Departures call for full explanation"; 10 Nov, D Houghton, D Knowles, "The world according to UQ: no scandal, just a 'misunderstanding'", T Hundloe, "Degree of worry over uni power"; 11 Nov, D Houghton, D Knowles, "Give us our top uni back, say students"; 12 Nov, D Houghton, D Knowles, "Where's the boss?", R Macdonald, "St Lucia silence shows grounds for better governance"; 15 Nov, D Houghton, "Mr 21 Seconds"; 16 Nov, D Houghton, B Vonow, "Uni out of step with its courses"; 17 Nov, B de Maria, "Climate of fear rules beneath uni façade"; 19 Nov, D Houghton, "CMC seeks answers in enrolment scandal"; 22 Nov, D Houghton, "Uni bosses stand by their man"; 24 Nov, editorial, "UQ must rethink its approach to integrity scandal", D Houghton, "Doctor outrage at UQ scandal"; 25 Nov, D Houghton, "Barrister reports scandal to police"; 26 Nov, D Houghton, "Top ethicist calls for more enrolment scandal details"; 30 Nov, D Houghton, "UQ warned of loss of donors over scandal"; 3 Dec, D Houghton, "CMC leans on uni for further information"; 10 Dec, D Houghton, "Enrolment scandal takes down UQ boss"; 16 Dec, D Houghton, D Knowles, "The Favour That Sank Uni Boss"; 17 Dec, J Lill, "Graduates stay quiet as Greenfield walks", D Houghton, "Fallout over Meg's fight to challenge a sick system"; 7 Jan 12, D Houghton, "More Claims At UQ"; 27 Jan, D Houghton, "Culture of fear holding back whistleblowers"; 19 May, R Sussex, "The Word"; 26 May, D Houghton, "V-C Snags Big Rise"; 13 June 13, M Solomons, "Tip-offs given to uni by CMC"; 14 Sep, R Kidd, "Failed"; 25 June 14, D Atkins, "Justice The Latest Casualty")


Shades of 1975? In that year former prime minister Gough Whitlam authorised fellow Labor Party member Bill Hartley to secretly seek election funding of up to $2 million from the Baath Socialist Party in Iraq. The authorised envoy was one Henry Fischer who met then Iraqi vice-president Saddam Hussein. To quote Greg Sheridan from The Australian: "..for an Australian political leader to seek secret electoral funds from one of the most brutal and bloodthirsty tyrannical regimes the 20th century ever saw was a monstrous moral failing". (G. Sheridan, "Busting decades of myths on Gough Whitlam", The Australian, 22 October 2014 - via Google) Could it be that ideologues, obsessed with moulding society according to their ideals, have a natural affinity with dictatorial regimes?
return to article

Final conclusion :
During August/September 2011 the case has been presented to a barrister to advise on the legal standing of my complaints. According to his - it seems well referenced - opinion it would be difficult to bring it to court to begin with and even then a successful outcome is not at all assured. It appears there is the crux of the matter: my thesis broke the rules on form although valid on substance. The examiners' reports followed the form but lacked in substance. Under the law the latter wins.

Social experiments are tricky business.

When processes need to be observed and analysed the usual preference is for a closed environment where factors can be selected, influences precisely measured and the results are confined to a rigorous set of parameters.

For better or worse, wider reality decides otherwise. Here we have a multitude of factors, their number more likely influenced by convenience rather than importance, the dynamics are chaotic, and the outcome of any series of events more often than not reflects the priorities of the system and not the intent of the observer.

Social experiments fall into this category. For that reason their ultimate information value is limited to the same level of generality as determined by the scope of the initial setup.

In this case there was Griffith University, a body featuring problematic aspects along procedural and ethical lines, surrounding entities directly or indirectly connected with education inside the overall societal framework, and myself, an individual not associated with any of the above yet being a stakeholder nevertheless.

The details of the dispute can be found on the following pages: the opposition and links, Griffithgate: mirror of decay and links, and the various blogs under Dispute with Griffith University. The dispute started with a remarkably questionable evaluation of an honours thesis, then spread across its inevitable consequences not helped by the university's blatant refusal to address a single point in the appeal, and involved other issues such as the destruction of records and a strange episode about the approach by someone who may or may not have been a student at Griffith's school of journalism depending on who can be believed. And then there was vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor's secret attempt to allow Saudi Arabia establish a foothold on his campus. The latter failed only because the affair was made public.

From the perspective of human activity systems there were three main clusters: the university itself (represented by a handful of players only - the case had nothing to do with the rest), the set of individuals approached during the entire episode which has lasted over ten years, and my own person together with a few others who were contacted intermittently.

Each one of those clusters had its own role, connections and dependencies across wider society. Inevitably, there would have been overlaps, which, so one would have to assume, performed within their own domains.

The experiment consisted in ascertaining to what extent a university with its specific economic mass can be challenged by a single person, the former being situated within a framework of societal and political networks in their own right for which the latter was never more than a passive recipient.

The long list of interactions over the past decade finally ended in court where I received a 12-month good behaviour bond with no conviction. A jail sentence could have been on the cards had it not been for the extenuating circumstances brought to the court's attention mostly through the detailed charge sheet provided by the police. Altogether that document ran to over three pages and included details such as the following quote from a letter to the chancellor, "Going by your responses so far that either has not been the case or the matter was considered too trivial to be paid much attention. Whatever the reason, it does not help. I am beginning to wonder therefore whether my approach has been wrong. I am drawn to see a parallel with refugees who enroll the help of people smugglers, in other words engaging the assistance of criminals to achieve what was not possible using legal channels. In most cases they get what they wanted. Should I employ similar tactics? Perhaps finding someone from the underbelly of society who is willing to apply some persuasive pressure on certain individuals would not only bring me further to my goal but would also earn me the respect from those who do not respond to facts alone. What would you do in such a situation - merely check your locks and windows and hope the whole matter would just go away?"

And so to Saudi Arabia. What brings a vice-chancellor, arguably the main persona of an institution that constitutes a major element in Western society over the centuries, to enter into a state of dependency with a regime beset with one of the worst human rights records on this planet? Furthermore, the abuses perpetrated under the directives of Islam place that nation under a particular cloud in the current context of Muslim confrontation with the rest of the world [1].

Another aspect concerns Malaysia. Why is it such a favourite? At the time of writing this addition (28 June 2012) Australia has just witnessed the tragedies of two boats with asylum seekers capsizing off Indonesia on their way here; many lives were lost. Most refugees coming via this route are from Asia to the West of us such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka. The boats are supplied by criminal gangs who charge thousands of dollars per person to bring them here, knowing that once on Australian territory the chances of becoming a resident are high and never mind the perils along the way including the boats' lack of seaworthiness. The boats keep coming and the political debate has raged for years with no effective solution in sight. The current Labor government wants the asylum seekers to be sent to Malaysia in exchange for many of their refugees at a ratio which hugely favours the Malaysians. The Coalition does not support that plan because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, and the government is against the Opposition's idea of using other locations for offshore processing such as Nauru or Timor. Why the government insists on Malaysia when it proclaims its humanitarian concern for refugees while at the same time being oblivious to sending even children to a country where human rights are not exactly a high priority, and when offshore processing is essentially accepted in any case, is an interesting question.

Griffith's Ian O'Connor wanted Saudi Arabia's money for his Islamic Research Unit (GIRU). This entity has a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) in Kuala Lumpur, about something concerning the "contextualisation" of Koranic studies within the GIRU. What exactly the contextualisation means is not disclosed, neither by Dr Halim Rane from Griffith's School of Humanities but also associated with the GIRU, nor by Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Founding Chairman and CEO of IAIS. Both were contacted in 2010 about that matter. Dr Rane ended the correspondence abruptly as soon as the Memorandum was mentioned, and two written requests to the IAIS went unanswered. What the GIRU and Griffith University for that matter arranged in the context of studying Islam so that those in Malaysia can rest easy remains a mystery, just as the Labor government does not explain why it sees nothing wrong with sending asylum seekers of any age there. After all, not everyone in the world agrees with whipping or beheadings, and whatever one may say about the United Nations, its concern with the protection of children should be acknowledged. What is it with Malaysia?

Justice Michael Kirby, in his Griffith Lecture 2007 [2], provided several case studies of institutionalised human rights violations in Malaysia. The University knows how to make itself look good, but behind the public facade, where the real action happens, the situation is different. For example, vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor had been appointed chairman of the new Queensland Schools Alliance Against Violence [3] to tackle bullying in schools, while personally responding to complaints by calling his security guards and seeking retribution in the courts; or offering a public platform to human rights campaigners while quietly establishing links with entities that constitute the very source of abuse.

Then we have the federal government's decision to import pineapples from Malaysia despite Queensland's industry being worth $80 million a year and the government's own reports saying that two percent of the fruit may be diseased.

As the events over those ten years showed, Australian universities are autonomous and exist in a checks-and-balance vacuum to a significant degree. Yet as the trial demonstrated, a forensic examination also reveals the presence of standards which somewhat limit the potential of an otherwise unfettered system. Still, extreme circumstances had to prevail on my side because my own status does not possess sufficient impact to create similar conditions for the other.

This social experiment demonstrated how a series of human activity systems do and do not perform within their respective scopes. For example, had similar actions involving misrepresentation and the destruction of records occurred somewhere else the guilty parties would be jailed. As far as secretly inviting an adverse power is concerned, there are countries where such subterfuge is considered an act of treason and the perpetrator executed.

Entities such as education departments, ombudsman offices and last but not least representative members of parliament do not have the will, the courage or the clout to address a scenario demonstrably undermining the very framework on which they, after all, depend one way or another. Similarly, academics who should have an even more direct interest in the integrity of their institution are not roused either.

Once a society features members who do not understand their responsibility towards their own system a state of decay has been entered.

Brisbane, 6 March 2011 (with a couple of additions later).

 

References:

[1] It takes an undercover investigation to reveal what goes on behind the public facade. A video of UK's Channel 4 documentary brought the influence of Saudi Arabia in many British mosques to light.

[2] Kirby, M., first person, Red, Office of External Relations, Griffith University Nathan Campus, Issue 01 May 2008, Brisbane, (p. 14) (extract of lecture).

[3] Courier Mail, 10 March 2010, Uni chief in chair.


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