Macquarie University proudly describes itself as “Australia’s Innovative University”. Perhaps, then, it should introduce a new innovation case study at its own business school – the case of one of Australia’s most prestigious institutions of learning which today finds itself with a huge load of dirty washing hanging from its portals.

The innovative behaviour of Macquarie’s recently-retired Vice-Chancellor Di Yerbury is certainly going to be worthy of a PhD thesis. She’s in a hammer-and-tongs fight with her successor, Steven Schwartz, and the university itself over her art collection, and her corporate behaviour.

As a starting point, a PhD researcher could pore over a slew of documents published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Like the memorandum from Yerbury to Macquarie’s Chancellor, Maurice Newman, in which she discusses the prospect of an injunction, “ongoing court proceedings on a number of fronts” and “a lot of adverse publicity and gossip” if the university doesn’t sort out their differences.

Or the interim report from Deloittes, the university’s auditors, which finds that there was “co-mingling” of university-owned and allegedly Yerbury-owned artworks, that key senior personnel contracts were missing, and that important university records had not been maintained.

Or the current V-C’s letter to the auditors, instructing them to investigate “certain practices by Professor Yerbury which may depart from proper standards of corporate governance and University policy.”

Oh what a lovely thesis it will make, especially the analysis of how a heavily-funded public university that teaches subjects like public administration, ethics, audit process, corporate governance and public relations can allow its most senior administrator to live in great style, “co-mingle” her artworks and do it all without apparent accountability.

No wonder it calls itself the country’s “Innovative University”.

Peter Fray

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