Reporting to his Council last February, Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz was gracious about his predecessor:

I would like to begin by saying how grateful I am to everyone at Macquarie for the warm welcome that I have received, especially from Di Yerbury who has made it a pleasure for me to settle in. Macquarie has grown explosively under her leadership. Di has grasped the big opportunities, but she has not neglected the details. Because of her work, Macquarie has money in the bank, a strong brand and many opportunities to exploit.

But read a bit more deeply, and his statement also contained the seeds of the feud that would follow, centring on Yerbury’s prized art collection (reported in juicy detail in today’s SMH):

In future, we may do some things differently from the way they were done in the past. This does not mean that things were previously done wrong, but that the environment we work in is constantly changing and new imperatives may demand different solutions from those of the past.

Finding where the truth lies in the current argument between Yerbury and Schwartz might take some time, and no doubt the lawyers are savouring the prospect of a drawn-out argument. But legalities aside, the real argument appears to be over a clash of management styles.

Yerbury was in the role for 19 years, a period in which the tertiary sector experienced massive change. Schwartz has only formally been in the top job for a few months, but already his tighter financial focus is apparent. Crikey understands that Schwartz has slashed the IT budget — up to a third says one source (see clarification below). Such cost-cutting could be causing havoc: over the Christmas period, a mail server was down for five days, with suggestions that every email sent over that period disappeared. No apology or explanation was forthcoming with staff apparently “furious”.

And late last year, the jewel in the Macquarie Uni crown, the Macquarie Dictionary, moved to the University of Sydney. Crikey contacted the Macquarie Dictionary but was told the publisher is “not allowed to comment” on the reasons for the move, though Crikey understands it may have something to do with Schwartz asking for rent, with the University of Sydney offering new digs rent free.

Under Yerbury’s stewardship, on the other hand, Macquarie University seems to have had a looser grip on some administrative matters. Her claim that the University Art Gallery houses millions of dollars’ worth of her paintings is instructive. Surely resolving the matter should be as simple as digging out the standard loan agreements private exhibiters sign with galleries?

Perhaps not. As the SMH reports today:

The Deloitte report noted there were “very few university records to indicate the origin of the artwork in the ‘special exhibits’ collection or whether it is the property of Professor Yerbury”. The auditors recommended Professor Yerbury be asked to substantiate her ownership claims.

The report also found: “A general failure to keep and maintain proper records … In most of the areas which were reviewed we found that key records have not been maintained as required by legislation, the university’s code of conduct or records policy.”

Yerbury’s financial claims are also suffering from a lack official documentation. As the SMH pointed out:

Now documents released under freedom of information laws reveal that one reason may be that even Macquarie University did not know for sure how much it was paying Professor Yerbury – as it had lost the only signed copy of her contract.

And:

Professor Yerbury, who was on a salary package of $600,000 including use of a university residence valued at $67,000 a year. The university cannot find a signed contract of employment under which she was employed. The university claimed she had failed to reconcile $40,000 in credit card expenses.

Perhaps Schwartz is being deliberately obstructive, or perhaps he’s simply demanding protocols be followed which Yerbury might have taken lightly while comfortably ensconced in the top job over nearly two decades. Or maybe it’s about a new VC stamping out his territory. Time will tell.

 


Mary Sharp, Director of Information Technology Services at Macquarie University, writes: Contrary to your article “Macquarie University’s great battle of management styles”, the ITS budget has not been slashed and in fact saw a modest operating budget increase in 2007. The university is gradually moving towards 24/7 available systems and a plan for achieving this is currently being implemented. During the implementation there will be some disruption to services for which I apologise.

Peter Fray

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