Phil Gardner, the former (and last, since the paper axed the role altogether) editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun, has swapped newsprint for the ivory tower, taking a role in the communications team at the University of Melbourne.

Gardner, who took redundancy from News Corp in 2013 during Kim Williams’ brief but highly tumultuous reign, has stepped in to help edit literary journal Meanjin. Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis is guest-editing the next issue of the Melbourne University Press title, which will focus on the question “Is there a crisis in democracy?”. Radio National host and former Crikey editor Jonathan Green will formally come on board as editor of Meanjin at the end of the year, but until then, the publication has had a different guest editor for every edition. Gardner’s main role is subediting the title.

But Crikey understands Meanjin is not the full extent of Gardner’s involvement at Melbourne University. Numerous sources have said Gardner is working on a new publishing project for the university, which will aim to tell the stories of the university and its research output to a broader audience. The project is likely to be digital and has not yet been formally launched. Crikey put this to Melbourne University director of external relations Andrew Hockley, who dismissed it by saying: “Your tip is a bit off the mark”. He declined to elaborate on Gardner’s other pursuits at the university, saying the former editor was working on a “range of things” but that he wasn’t in a position to talk about them. Hockley said Meanjin was “the main extent of [Gardner’s] work at the moment”. “He’s a really lovely bloke and really enjoying what he’s doing,” Hockley said.

Hockley said the vice-chancellor had “specifically asked for Phil” for Meanjin, given the former News Corp tabloid editor’s extensive experience in publishing. In February, the title appointed former Monthly editor John van Tiggelen to edit the journal (though he wasn’t due to start until the end of the year. He subsequently decided to “pursue other opportunities”, leading to Green’s appointment as editor, which will take effect from the December issue).

Gardner’s last widely publicised interaction with the University of Melbourne took place in 2012, when he complained to the university about a column in student rag Farrago in which a former Herald Sun intern spilled the beans on the “heteronormative, white, elitist” tabloid. Gardner would leave News Corp a year later somewhat abruptly — he’d spent 28 years at the company and was widely seen as a Murdoch man. Not much was heard from him after he left, though there was plenty of speculation. One scurrilous rumour doing the rounds at News’ Southbank Melbourne HQ was that he’d taken a gig subediting at AAP’s Pagemasters under an assumed name. His LinkedIn page lists his post-News roles as consulting on media strategy for the state government, and involvement in an unnamed digital startup.