USyd shies from scrutiny over college culture review

Email correspondence between the University and the Colleges has been almost entirely redacted

A redacted email sent to vice-chancellor Michael Spence. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald A redacted email sent to vice-chancellor Michael Spence. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

The University of Sydney has declined to provide full transcripts of its emails with the residential colleges pertaining to Elizabeth Broderick’s review of USyd’s residential college culture, according to an exclusive report in The Sydney Morning Herald today.

Fairfax Media requested access to correspondence about the review between key college officers, alumni and top University staff under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, which requires that the University respond to freedom of information requests about its activities.

Six months after the request was made, the University provided Fairfax with 186 pages of emails that were heavily redacted and had the bulk of content removed, along with a 33-page document justifying the decision.

While it was allegedly acknowledged that the redacted information came under the scope of Fairfax’s request, the University rejected its full disclosure on grounds that included prejudicing professional and financial interests.

According to SMH,They’re the emails that hold the key to what the residential colleges of Sydney University really think about the review into their sometimes controversial culture”.

The correspondence includes emails from upper University management, including Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, Vice Chancellor Michael Spence, and former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

They correspond with often powerful and influential business people and alumnus. Those identified by Fairfax include Charlie Taylor, senior partner at multibillion-dollar global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company and St Andrew’s College council chair, and Cathleen Crossley, principal at Pitcher Partners and an alumnus of Sancta Sophia College.

A University spokesperson told Honi that five of the third parties consulted in the matter objected to the release of the information requested. “The University sought senior external legal advice on this matter and has acted in accordance with that advice,” the spokesperson said.

Three relevant parties in the email correspondence, who wrote to Hutchinson, Spence and Broderick directly, had their identities removed from the records entirely. The University’s report stated: “they would never have written if they had known that their private, confidential and personal communications would be the subject of an access application”.

One of the relevant organisations also argued that: “all communication between the colleges and the university are confidential”.

College participation in the Broderick review has been contentious; while it has received the official support of St John’s, St Andrew’s, Women’s, Sancta Sophia and Wesley, St Paul’s has declined to participate as of Friday, May 19, after seeming like they would earlier this year.

As the only strictly male college, its multiple backflips over partaking in the review have been widely received with a mixture of scorn, incredulity and cynicism. Prominent St Paul’s alumni, such as Seven Network commercial director Bruce McWilliam, have been highly critical of the review.

However, given the heavy redaction of email correspondence on the matter, the extent of the influence of key stakeholders and public figures like this cannot be discerned.

This article has been updated to reflect further comment by the University of Sydney.

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