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News // SUSF

Head of Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness made redundant in restructure

SUSF’s incorporation takes its first victim

Robert Smithies walks off Oval No.1 next to sign that says "Under New Management"

Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) is witnessing the high-profile departure of its longstanding chief Robert Smithies after this year’s restructure made his position redundant and resulted in the dissolution of the entire SUSF Management Committee.

Smithies told Honi he would not “seek a role within the new incorporated entity, SUSF Limited.”

An employee of the University, Smithies has held the role of Executive Director of SUSF since 2007, a role which positioned him at the apex of the organisation’s reporting lines and gave him oversight of  SUSF’s senior management.

Smithies thanked SUSF staff on Monday in an email seen by Honi. 

“The University of Sydney has also been an integral part of our success and there are many people within it that have helped SUSF in a variety of ways, and deserve our thanks.”

In a meeting last year, the SUSF Management Committee, including then SUSF President James Flynn, “discussed its loss of confidence in the Executive Director and his commitment to good governance,” according to minutes taken.

In a motion seconded by senior University staff member David Wright, the Committee unanimously voted to seek the approval of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Pip Pattison in order to manage Smithies’ performance.

David Wright is the Director of the University’s Financial Control and Treasury Department. The Committee’s request was, however, overlooked by the University and no performance management process ever eventuated.

SUSF’s restructure comes after an ICAC complaint against the organisation alleged several issues with the organisation’s governance, including a particular rental agreement with former President Bruce Ross. ICAC has not indicated it will investigate the complaint.

An official spokesperson for the University told Honi that Smithies’ redundancy has “not been influenced by a complaint of any kind.”

Honi makes no claim that Smithies’ redundancy was connected to the ICAC complaint in any way.

“Smithies has been employed by the University for a number of years, and has always been regarded as an exemplary employee,” said the spokesperson.

SUSF’s restructure has been probed by the University for some time. In 2016, it convened a governance review of SUSF spearheaded by consulting firm Ebbeck TIG with recommendations directly reported to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence.

The review examined SUSF’s governance and the roles of the Management Committee, according to the terms of reference exclusively obtained by Honi. 

This year’s changes to SUSF governance effectively end the sports union’s status as an unincorporated charity led by a management committee.

Now, SUSF will be an incorporated association with a company board. Its directors will sourced with the input of senior university staff.

Despite incorporating, SUSF will still receive a slice of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) because it will “continue to support sporting and recreational activities for the student community,” a uni spokesperson said.

Historically, SUSF has received the lion’s share of the annual SSAF allocations, receiving 36% of the total SSAF funding pool or $5 million in 2018. Now, that looks set to change.

Smithies is not the first member of the organisation’s management to leave SUSF this year, although he may be the first to do so voluntarily. Vice President Ed Fernon’s position was vacated earlier in the year after he failed to attend three consecutive meetings.