Unemployable … Professor Kim Walker.WHEN the University of Sydney plucked Kim Walker from one of America’s most prestigious music schools to revive the fortunes of its Conservatorium of Music, her career was in full flight. But the bassoon soloist claims that after 7½ years as dean of the conservatorium, the university’s disloyalty has rendered her unemployable.
Professor Walker is suing the university for millions of dollars in damages for the loss of reputation and future earnings.
The Supreme Court has heard at the first airing of the matter that the relationship between the university and its star recruit soured dramatically after February 2007, when the then chancellor Kim Santow begged her not to accept another job offer and to stay at the conservatorium until its centenary in 2015.
Five months later, the university stood her down on plagiarism allegations, heralding a sharp deterioration in the relationship between the musician and her employer.
The university investigated the allegations and returned Professor Walker to work, with the vice-chancellor, Gavin Brown, expressing his support in her as dean. But Professor Walker says the university did not act in good faith after that point, behaving in a way inconsistent with any intention to renew her contract and failing to rehabilitate her reputation.
Her barrister John Garnsey, QC, said the plagiarism allegations had already damaged her good name, but from that time onwards the university ”effectively destroyed her reputation both in Australia and overseas”.
After Professor Walker returned to work, the university commissioned the former Federal Court judge Roger Gyles to review the conservatorium. He released a report stating that the atmosphere between staff was ”toxic”. He recommended the university terminate Professor Walker’s appointment. But he said if the university chose not to take that option it should take urgent steps to bolster and support her as dean. Mr Garnsey said the university neither terminated her appointment nor bolstered her support, to the point that she was now unemployable.
The university says Professor Walker cannot make any legal claims for events that followed its decision to return her to work after the suspension, because the parties signed a deed of release that prevented her from taking legal action.
Professor Walker says the university breached the contract in its failure of goodwill.
The Supreme Court will decide what parts of Professor Walker’s claim are admissible before the full hearing takes place later this year.
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