The former dean of arts at the University of Melbourne, Professor Stuart Macintyre, has launched an extraordinary attack on his successor, Professor Mark Considine, accusing him of deliberately misrepresenting the state of the faculty’s finances.

The late-night missive, sent early yesterday to all faculty of arts staff and obtained by Crikey, accuses Professor Considine of “retrospective falsification” over alleged structural deficits during Professor Macintyre’s stint as dean between 1999 and 2006. The claims have appeared in Professor Considine’s “Dean’s Message” and in university marketing material.

“I am puzzled also why the university officers responsible for the publications allowed these spurious claims to be publicised. Did they not see that such statements in promotional literature are not only inappropriate but counterproductive?” Professor Macintyre wrote.

“Who would care to take on university responsibilities in the knowledge that university resources can subsequently be used to criticise them without any opportunity to contest the inaccuracies? I can only wonder why those responsible for the faculty decided to draw attention to the damage they have inflicted on it.”

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His email follows an earlier missive, sent in August, that demanded Professor Considine’s claims about his legacy be corrected.

Last week, Professor Considine was re-appointed for a five-year term as dean amid a bitter selection stoush involving several of Professor Macintyre’s colleagues in the history department.

Professor Considine hit back this morning, telling Crikey that under Professor Macintyre’s reign the faculty’s structural deficit had become a “runaway train”. He blamed the deficit on “large increases in staffing that took place from 2002 onwards, plus a decline in the high levels of international income achieved in 2002-03 and in the years thereafter.”

However, Professor Macintyre disputes this, arguing that a 2007 change in the faculty’s funding mix had led to a deterioration in its finances.

“In the years 1999 to 2005 the faculty was in surplus, and that my successor inherited a substantial reserve. After 2005 there were changes to the university’s budget formula and that of the faculty. The faculty imposed cuts on staffing and did nothing to increase revenue. There was a failure to reveal or discuss the budget. There was a loss of capacity and morale.”

Since taking over as dean of arts from Professor Belinda Probert, who resigned in 2007 to care for her mother, Professor Considine has battled to return the faculty to surplus. He has overseen the loss of 50 jobs, including eight in Professor Macintyre’s history department, but says he will soon hire a further 25 academic staff.

“Stopping (the deficit) was always going to take at least a couple of years and some very decisive action”, he told Crikey this morning.

He disputed Professor Macintyre’s claims that he “open the books” before he repeated “the next erroneous and damaging statement about the past.” The faculty’s budget was a public document and “plain for all to see”, Professor Considine said.

The back and forth reflects long-running feud between the university’s history and politics departments over funding and prestige. While politics has recorded strong revenue growth, history is still believed to be in deficit. In June, a university consultant conducted a controversial review of history, recommending that salary costs be slashed by $2.43 million, or about a third of the staff budget.

Last week, Professor Kate Darian-Smith, who has co-authored several  books with Professor Macintyre, and Professor Joy Damousi, also from history, failed in their attempts to topple Professor Considine, from politics, as dean of arts after a drawn-out selection process.

Both professors were critical of the funding model pursued by Professor Considine and have called for more funding to attract more students and restore the school’s reputation.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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