Sacked art historian wins uni job back

By Martha McKenzie-Minifie

An art history lecturer made redundant from the University of Auckland has won his job back in a legal decision that describes his feeling of humiliation after being dismissed.

Maori and Pacific art specialist Dr Rangihiroa Panoho - the first Maori to get a PhD in art history - was also awarded $25,000 in compensation under an Employment Relations Authority determination.

The ruling came a month after a high-profile ruling ordering the university to pay senior political and international relations lecturer Paul Buchanan $66,000 in lost wages and damages.

Dr Buchanan, who wrote an intemperate email to a foreign student, was not reinstated but he is appealing against that part of the determination.

In the new case, authority member Leon Robinson determined that Dr Panoho was not treated fairly or sensitively and the university's vice-chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon "failed to act as a good employer".

The university told the Herald it disagreed with elements of the decision and was considering an appeal.

Association of University Staff deputy secretary Marty Braithwaite said the finding was indicative of poor employment relations practices.

Dr Panoho told the Herald he wanted to get his career back on track, and was happy with the finding.

"In life you have got to be able to celebrate some victories, so we have to feel like we are celebrating something at this point," he said.

"It's been pretty bleak - it's been very, very hard to get through this."

The determination said Dr Panoho had been apprehensive about his future if the dismissal was not overturned and had few job prospects because of the specialist nature of his work.

Mr Robinson said the lecturer had borrowed heavily to finance travel for research abroad and to attend lectures and symposiums in Europe and the Americas.

Dr Panoho was made redundant last year as part of the university's move to shed two art history staff members, prompted - in part - by a fall in full-time-equivalent student numbers in the arts faculty.

According to the determination, Professor McCutcheon did not identify particular art history positions as redundant, but instead applied a process to select employees.

Mr Robinson said he believed assurances Professor McCutcheon was given about the fairness and transparency of the selection process were incorrect.

Witnesses for Professor McCutcheon had "curiously" been unable to give clear evidence of the deliberations about Dr Panoho.

Professor McCutcheon gave the authority an internal memo from December 2006, a report from the equal opportunities manager on the selection process and a section of the academic staffing review selection committee recommendations paper.

Mr Robinson wrote that Dr Panoho learned the true reasons for his dismissal only after the selection committee recommendation paper was provided to him.

"That situation can only have exacerbated Dr Panoho's anguish."

He said he was not persuaded that the position Dr Panoho held was redundant.

- NZ Herald

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