I was the honours coordinator in the School of Nursing at an elite university in Australia. I discovered that at least 5 students of Associate Prof B had been enrolled into the 4th year of a 4-year program. They had never been to university before. Prof B had also waived the honours thesis requirement for her students, so they graduated with a BN (hons) having not met ANY of the requirements of these qualifications.
As the honours coordinator I was required to sign off on these graduations. I went to the head of teaching/learning in the faculty and provided a written summary of the students’ academic records and my concerns.
Six weeks later I received an email from my head of school, Prof T, who was a longtime friend of Prof B. Prof T told me that there had been so many complaints about me IN THE LAST SIX WEEKS that I would be immediately removed as honours coordinator and removed from all committees. The complaints were anonymous and no details were given beyond my “inappropriate” and “aggressive” behaviour. Later FOI revealed none of these complaints ever existed.
After 3 years of reprisals…. weekly complaints, pay cut, public humiliation, marginalization I reported reprisals to the faculty. I was put through the “grievance” system where I was pressured to be nicer as the outcome. The grievance procedure morphed into performance management. I was accused by Prof T of research fraud, academic fraud, and financial fraud. My own research grant money was transferred to the school account so I was unable to continue with my research (using my own funds earned in my own time) …
I finally went to an Australian Crime and Corruption Commission, which asked the university to investigate itself. The university found that “no evidence” of misconduct – they didn’t even look up the student records which proved they hadn’t done the courses of the BN (hons). The university also found that I had not suffered reprisals… I had spent 5 years of “performance management action”. At this point all my teaching had been taken away, my research had been financially sabotaged and I had no admin. I hired a lawyer to fight in industrial court to keep my job.
However, my lawyer pushed me into taking a redundancy…. I think that is the model that universities and lawyers have an understanding about. My lawyer certainly thought I was holding out for more money, when in fact I was holding out for my job.
In the end I was suicidal, had severe anxiety and serious PTSD. I had uncontrollably high blood pressure. When faced with the choice between suicide and redundancy, I took redundancy. Ironically, that didn’t make the suicidal plans go away. They existed for about 5 years.
The redundancy agreement was arranged between my lawyer and the university. I didn’t know or care what the terms what. I only insisted that my last 5 annual appraisals (by prof T, which she rated as “unsatisfactory”) would be annulled. I was thinking this would be necessary for me to get another job…. 5 years of “unsatisfactory” appraisals, as well as zero references after being in job for 15 years was foremost on my mind.
I was so desperate for some relief, I agreed immediately. I was not in a fit mental state to sign any kind of contract. I didn’t read it; I didn’t know or care what it said. I wanted the torture to stop. I would do anything to make the relentless character assassination and organized bullying stop.
As soon as I signed the redundancy agreement with NDA, I regretted it. The students with “gifted” qualifications still had them and used them. One went on to get a PhD with Prof B and used illegal data I had said was not ethical when she wanted to use when she enrolled in the honours program. This student got an unearned BN, an unearned honours and a fraudulent PhD. She then went on to win (with Prof B) almost $375000 grant which went to the university to employ her.
Also, I was unemployable. My PTSD was so bad my blood pressure would rise to 200/150 despite maximum medication (4 different medications). I would get panic attacks every time someone would lie to me. My reputation was so bad that no university would hire me so I tried to work as a research assistant and as a personal carer for a disabled lady. But my panic attacks were debilitating when the carer from the night shift would leave her work undone for me to pick up in the morning. Even this “normal” workplace abuse would trigger a panic attack.
So I regretted the NDA immediately for personal and professional and idealistic reasons (about what a university degree means). I am 100% sure the NDA isn’t enforceable though. The university lied when it wrote up the contract. It agreed to annul my annual appraisals from 2009-2013. So I got self inking rubber stamps to stamp on every false accusation “not supported by the evidence”. When I asked HR about when I could come in and spend the day stamping on the 400 or so complaints about me, the deputy head of HR said that the university never intended to annul my annual appraisals. He said he would put them in an envelope in my HR file.
So I filed a bunch of FOI (RTI in Australia… right to information) and discovered ZERO complaints about me. It turned out that Prof T had made them all up.
But the annulled appraisals also had significant financial implications. It was in my annual appraisals that Prof T cut my pay. Since these appraisals were annulled, the pay cut would have been annulled. One of the false accusations made AFTER I signed the redundancy agreement was that I had gone to a holiday spot to go to a conference I had paid to go to, but which Prof T had told me during my annual appraisal I was not allowed to go.
This was the financial fraud…. going to a conference when I had been told I wasn’t to go. In fact I hadn’t gone…. I was way too sick to attend, but this was my misconduct because I had used the university credit card to pay for a conference I did not have permission to attend (in fact I paid for it with MY research grant….MY OWN money… I never had access to a university credit card. But my issue was that I was not guilty of THAT misconduct because my 2013 annual appraisal had been annulled before the date of the conference. Therefore Prof T’s direction to me NOT to attend the conference was annulled.
The university put in writing that it never intended to “annul” the annual appraisals, so I take that as them having entered into an illegal contact. They lied about the terms of the redundancy agreement, so they breached it. I lost a lot of money because of their lie. I was counting on being reimbursed all the lost wages resulting from the annulled appraisal. It never occurred to me that the university would lie about that. They wrote up the redundancy agreement. They included the clause that the annual appraisals would be annulled. I signed it in good faith.
So I don’t consider that I am bound by the NDA. I have tried to get my story out, but the Australian press will not report on things that might affect Australia’s third biggest export (after tourism and mining, university education is a cornerstone of the Australian economy). Also, the Crime and Corruption Commission has officially stamped “liar” on my forehead. They concurred with the university that no one SAW any evidence of gifted qualifications and that I complained about reprisals because I was a substandard employee undergoing 5 years of performance management.
The conflict of interest of Prof T, who had been best friends with Prof B for 30 years since they were in nursing school together was actively avoided. That every single one of 400 complaints came from Prof T was never investigated. As soon as I left, both Prof T and Prof B were let go. This was so that the university could claim, “2 bad apples who don’t work here anymore”. Both Prof T and B are full tenured professors at other Australian universities. The fact that the university got rid of them indicates that it knew the whole time that I had told the truth and that it was deliberately keeping me in harm’s way to ensure the reprisals would achieve the desired end.
The stuff about deliberately lying on the redundancy agreement is just carelessness IMO. I think that this choreography to get rid of academics trying to do the right thing by students is so commonplace that when my lawyer told the university the only thing I wanted was to have the annual appraisals annulled, they stuck it into the agreement without thinking about the implications. They (and my lawyer) really only were capable of thinking in terms of a financial settlement. To this day I have no idea if I just got my legal entitlements after 15 years’ employment or if I got a lump sum in addition. I just know the university’s contract said it would annual the appraisals and then afterwards said it would NOT annual the appraisals AND HAD NEVER HAD ANY INTENTION OF ANNULLING THE APPRAISALS. They put this in writing.
So I am assuming that the NDA is illegal and I can say whatever I want. I reckon the university could sue me, but a) they lied on the agreement, b) I’d have to give back whatever “extra” money they gave me, and I’m not sure they gave me any “extra” beyond my legal entitlements like holiday pay etc, and c) really bad publicity for the university. My biggest problem is finding an outlet for my story because systemic corruption at universities will not be reported by the Australian press.
We don’t have a free press in Australia, and that is a huge part of the problem. I’ve had 3 different reporters take my story, take ALL my evidence including the fake waivers, and ghost me. I suspect a “catch and kill” is going on if I am not simply blacklisted.