University of New England (UNE) Vice-Chancellor Brigid Heywood is facing calls to step down after it was revealed on Monday that she had allegedly assaulted a 16 year-old girl in March.
The alleged incident happened during an International Women’s Day event in Armidale where Heywood had been invited to speak.
Heywood has been charged with common assault and behaving in an offensive manner at a public place, and will make her first court appearance on 26 September.
The allegations against Heywood have attracted widespread condemnation from unions, students and politicians, with many calling for her resignation.
“Professor Heywood is one of just 39 vice chancellors of Australia’s public universities. She holds a position of public trust and national significance,” said NTEU NSW Secretary Damien Cahill.
“Professor Heywood is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the allegations requires an appropriate response,” Cahill said.
“In the present circumstances the only appropriate and responsible course is for Professor Heywood to step aside with immediate effect pending the outcome of matters before the courts. If Professor Heywood does not voluntarily step aside then the University must act to stand her down,” he said.
National Union of Students President Georgie Beatty also told Honi: “Students deserve to feel safe at universities and their educators should be the ones upholding this standard.
“It is unacceptable that the HEAD of a university allegedly assaulted a school-aged student,” Beatty said.
“Earlier this year the National Student Safety Survey demonstrated why students already feel so unsafe at universities. Allowing people like Brigid Heywood to stay in their position only worsens this,” she said.
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi called the allegations “shocking” in a tweet and called for appropriate action to be taken against the Vice-Chancellor.
“Vice-chancellors are leaders of big public institutions and should be held to high standards of behaviour and accountability,” Faruqi said.
Heywood previously came under fire after a major staff restructure in 2020 resulted in more than 100 staff redundancies, in an effort to cut costs due to pandemic-related pressures.
The University of New England did not reply to requests for comment.