Marc De Vos is not just any professor of labour law. In recent years, he has regularly positioned himself as a media commentator (in Belgium) with an outspoken opinion on labour relations, the organisation of the labour market, healthcare, pensions and other social issues.
Since the 2010 elections, he has regularly appeared in the media with comments on labour market policy and the differences he perceives between the north and south of the country. He has published several opinions in the (Belgian) newspapers Knack, Trends, De Tijd, De Morgen and De Standaard and has been quoted in foreign media on matters not related to his academic background, such as Islam extremism.
From 2006 to 2014, he was director of the conservative think tank Itinera, which is financed by entrepreneurs and wealthy individuals and advocates a neoliberal social vision. This is clear from the column De Vos wrote in De Tijd on 14 February 2007, as the then director of the Itinera Institute. In this column, De Vos emphasised the relevance of Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged for contemporary times.
The way in which an academic and media commentator on labour relations, inclusion and citizenship himself deals with his own employees under his leadership is relevant in this context. What does this practice say about the person’s thinking?
It turns out that matters became problematic during his stay in Australia. This raises two questions. Why did Marc De Vos resign just a few weeks before the end of the Australian academic year 2021, exactly one week after he received the report from the mediator who investigated complaints against his person? Also – given that complaints about his behaviour began to emerge as soon as he started his job in Australia – the question must be asked: why did Professor Marc De Vos in fact leave Ghent?
Macquarie University is a public research university in Sydney, Australia, with five faculties, an academic hospital and a management school. The Macquairie Law School (MLS) is part of the Faculty of Arts (FoA), headed by Dean Martina Möllering. The Australian academic year starts in early February and ends in early December.
On 25 October 2021, Marc De Vos informed the staff of the Macquarie Law School (MLS) of his resignation. Three years earlier on 16 August 2018, faculty dean Möllering reported to the staff: “It gives me great pleasure to announce that Professor Marc De Vos, currently vice-dean at Ghent University Law School (Belgium) and part-time (fractional full) professor at Curtin University Law School, has been recruited as the new dean of the Macquarie Law School”.
“Professor De Vos is a highly respected academic with an impressive record of interdisciplinary, collaborative and impact-oriented research. His subject matter expertise spans the broad world of work, inclusion and citizenship. Professor De Vos has served as professor and visiting professor in several top universities in Europe, North America and China. In particular, he has a successful record in leadership and management, through senior assignments in academia, legal practice and in the world of think tanks.’
All candidates for the position were interviewed via Zoom, except De Vos who was present in Sydney for his interview. Unlike previous recruitments, candidates were not introduced to colleagues, either individually or collectively, and no lecture was required from them. FoA dean Möllering personally supervised the recruitment process. De Vos signed a five year contract, standard term for this position.
On 18 June 2021, Samantha Ramsay, head of the Macquairie branch of the National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU) wrote to Pam Nilon, deputy head of the university’s human resources department.
She reported the results of a Work Health and Safety Audit (WHS) in the MLS. In summary, the NTEU audit found the following:
- 93 per cent of respondents feel that their individual experience of the work culture in the MLS is ‘negative or extremely negative’;
- 87 per cent did not select ‘yes’ when asked if the MLS is a ‘safe workplace’.
This audit came after an increasing number of complaints were submitted to the union from academic and administrative staff since De Vos was hired, as well as from a number of MLS staff who resigned early in Voluntary Redundancy (VR) in 2018-19. This audit was held from 24 to 28 May 2021.
Several MLS staff members expressed the opinion in the audit that the university should conduct an independent investigation into the following issues:
- Bullying and discrimination (with a particular focus on gender, race and age);
- lack of fairness and equity from the MLS dean and senior management on organisational matters;
- failure to follow established workplace processes and procedures of the University.
The WHS Audit identified prevalent bullying and harassment of staff, particularly female staff, and an unsafe working environment.
Over 90 per cent of respondents expressed their disagreement with the following statement: “Macquairie Law School is a work and study environment grounded in the values of dignity, respect and inclusion free from all forms of unlawful discrimination, harassment and intimidation.”
In addition, 69 per cent of respondents reported experiencing aggression at Macquairie Law School, most of them female staff. The NTEU also received reports of sexist, ageist and racist statements by the MLS dean.
Law School dean De Vos did not respect the rules and procedures for the functioning of the workplace, including the methodology for preparing and maintaining meeting minutes. Several Performance and Development Review (PDR) meetings were delegated by Dean De Vos to staff members who were not authorised to do so. For all these reasons, the NTEU union called for an independent investigation.
In her reply of 17 August 2021, human resources manager Claire Don reported that she had not received any complaints in the university’s reporting system (WHS Risk Online Active Reporting System ROAR). Therefore, she requested additional information. In conversation with DeWereldMorgen.be, a staff member reported that staff members do not consider the ROAR system safe.
On 22 September 2021, Faculty of Arts Dean Möllering informed the staff members of Macquairie Law School about the appointment of Nina Harding as independent mediator. Mediator Harding informed a member of the staff that she would speak with Möllering about De Vos on September 30, 2021. She met MLS staff members, whose statements were recorded anonymously in her report.
On 18 October 2021, mediator Nina Harding submitted her report to FoA Dean Möllering and informed Marc De Vos of her findings. Her report has been kept under embargo by Faculty Dean Möllering to date.
In the same message, mediator Harding announced the appointment of ‘clinician’ Joanna Abbey, a member of a specialist team from the Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) Benestar advisory service, as an additional measure to the resources normally provided for resolving staffing problems.
One week later, on 25 October 2021, Marc De Vos informed the staff of his resignation as Dean for “family reasons”. He was in Belgium at the time. On November 5, 2021, De Vos returned to Sydney to make arrangements for his departure and to vacate his residence there.
MLS staff members about Devos
Attached to this article is an extensive timeline and list of quotes from statements made by Macquairie Law School staff members. This is a brief selection from that list:
“It is unprecedented for the dean of a major law school to resign in these circumstances, three years into a lucrative five-year contract. The mediator’s report is embargoed by Dean Möllering, which indicates that it could be damaging to the leadership of the university.”
“De Vos was regularly absent for months at a time1 and left all administrative and organisational tasks entirely to his ‘leadership group’ which consisted of one to six people depending on the circumstances, led by vice-dean Lise Barry (who has been deputy dean since his resignation, nvdr).”
“On average, I estimate that he was absent for 7 months per academic year.”
“De Vos never took into account the time difference from Belgium. We almost always had to meet with him for hours from 6 p.m. here, 8 a.m. Belgian time, when we were at home with our families. Everyone had to adapt to him, never the other way around.”
He never gave a lecture, which is a tradition, especially for a starting law school dean in Australia. It is common in Australia for foreign academics to be recruited for such positions, including those from non-Anglo-Saxon countries. What is unusual is that Marc De Vos is a ‘civil lawyer’, not an academic trained in Anglo-Saxon ‘common law’.
I have the impression that (faculty dean) Möllering did not do a thorough back-up check of his previous academic publications in Ghent. What I find is a lot of opinions. His books appear in what we here call ‘vanity press’ or with non-mainstream publishers.’
Attached to the original dutch language article is an extended timeline and list of statements (not translated).
1 Also in academic year 2019, before COVID-19.