Sydney Uni Sports and Fitness President James Flynn will take a leave of absence for the rest of his term, giving up all management responsibilities but staying on in a figurehead role. He has also confirmed he will not run for re-election in 2019.
At a closed-door meeting in October, SUSF’s management committee granted Flynn a leave of absence for the remaining six months of his two-year term. The decision has not yet been announced to ordinary members of SUSF, even though there was a public meeting immediately after the management committee session. Flynn said he intends to email members of SUSF about the decision in the near future.
Flynn told the management committee he would have to leave his role because his personal business has secured a $1.3 billion contract with tech firm Hewlett-Packard. He declined to tell Honi the name of his business but said it produces software for large corporations.
“I’m taking a leave of absence to focus on my business,” he said.
“The job [of president] at the moment is demanding 20-40 hours of my week. That’s unsustainable, considering my obligations for work. In order to ameliorate that, I have stepped back from the day-to-day management committee duties and will continue in my formal duties.”
He said that his new contract will require him to spend more time travelling overseas for work. Despite this, he said he remains committed to overseeing the governance review, which aims to restructure the organisation, introducing the type of policies and procedures common in mid-to-large sized corporations.
Flynn also told the management committee that he will not run again next year. He told Honi that he always intended to serve a single term as president.
Ed Fernon, a vice president on the management committee who is close to Flynn, will act as interim president, taking over the leadership of the committee. Flynn intends to perform some formal duties, like hosting dinners, awards nights and other events.
Sources have suggested that Flynn’s decision to leave may be influenced by the University’s investigation into senior members of SUSF’s management committee. Honi understands that the University launched the investigation earlier this year, and handed down its findings in October. At this stage, Honi cannot confirm the existence or results of this investigation. The University and Flynn have declined to comment on the matter.
Flynn’s presidency has been controversial. His background is in politics, not sport: he has served as a USU Board Director and USyd Senate representative, and as a political staffer for the Liberal Party. He harnessed the college vote to win the presidency, offering college students free gym memberships if elected. He is locked in an ongoing dispute with Executive Director Rob Smithies, and parties on both sides have said that the conflict has prevented SUSF from operating as efficiently as it should. Flynn and Smithies have allegedly made complaints against each other.
Beyond this, other members of SUSF have made bullying allegations against Flynn, which were reportedly mishandled. The management committee, normally chaired by the President, created a subcommittee of office bearers to address complaints about office bearers. One source told Honi they dropped their complaint because they believed Flynn was effectively investigating complaints about himself. Honi understands that the other complaints were dropped for similar reasons. Flynn, however, said that he made himself absent when the subcommittee discussed complaints levelled against him. This would be in line with the subcommittee’s conflict policy, which provides that:
“Where a member of the management committee is implicated in an accusation, they will recuse themselves from the process and any investigations of the main resources committee.”
Flynn was elected president in May 2017, following the resignation of former president Bruce Ross, who retired after 26 years in office. The next presidential election will be held at the annual general meeting in May next year.
This article has been amended.