The University of Sydney investigated plagiarism allegations against the dean of its Conservatorium of Music on four separate occasions and decided in each instance not to take disciplinary action against her.
But the university’s defence pleadings in a subsequent civil action that was heard this week suggest that in three of the four plagiarism investigations, the outcome was equivocal.
The former dean, Kim Walker, is suing the university for breach of contract, misleading and deceptive conduct, negligence and unconscionability, after it decided not to renew her employment contract at the end of 2011.
The University’s defence to her action is the first insight into how it handled the investigations, which included claims Professor Walker plagiarised a lecture series delivered at the Art Gallery of NSW and the cover notes of a 1987 CD.
The first plagiarism allegation arose from a package of complaints about Professor Walker, which the university appointed Anthony Britt, SC, to investigate while it suspended her from work.
Professor Walker's Statement of Claim maintains that Mr Britt concluded the allegations were not made out except for one matter, for which she was not responsible.
But the university says this is an inaccurate summary of the Britt Report and says it relies on the full terms of the report.
The second plagiarism allegation, in February 2008, concerned the cover notes for a 1987 CD.
Professor Walker said she gave evidence to the investigation that she was not the author of the cover notes, but the university does not admit she provided any such evidence.
It says a senior academic concluded that "in his opinion on the available evidence" it was not an instance of plagiarism.
Court documents focus on the plagiarism allegations. Photo: Screen grab
Two months later, she faced her third and fourth plagiarism allegations, which arose from a lecture series she delivered at the Art Gallery of NSW.
According to Professor Walker, the gallery’s director, Judith White, provided evidence that the dean’s original notes had correctly attributed all her material she delivered in her lecture, but that the gallery had failed to give it to audience members.
But the university denies this, saying only that Professor Walker was able to provide a draft copy of her speech.
In its version of events, the original investigating officer, Professor Walker’s direct superior, was perplexed. He formed an initial view that "the allegations of plagiarism were not sustainable", but referred the matter to a senior academic.
The defence says that academic, Professor Merlin Crossley, said Professor Walker’s statements had not resolved the matter, that there was evidence of multiple phrases being copied verbatim and asked for the matter to be referred to a further investigating officer.
The further investigating officer recommended no further action be taken.
Professor Walker claims that there was never any substance to the plagiarism claims, and the university handled them in a way that were calculated to "insult and distress" her.
It should have told her who had raised the allegations, and publicly cleared her of blame, she says. But the university says it had no obligation to do these things.
Professor Walker’s legal team applied to file a further amended statement of claim in the Supreme Court this week. The proceedings are at a preliminary stage and the full hearing will occur later this year.