ACU Chancellor rejects staff appeal for Pell name change on Ballarat campus

Cardinal George Pell ahead of his sentencing hearing. Picture: AP Photo/Andy Brownbill
Cardinal George Pell ahead of his sentencing hearing. Picture: AP Photo/Andy Brownbill

The chancellor of Australian Catholic University (ACU), John Fahey, has turned down a request from staff to immediately change the name of the Pell Centre on the Ballarat campus.

Mr Fahey, who served as the premier of New South Wales in the 1990s, also rejected a call to sanction the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Greg Craven for his outspoken support of Cardinal George Pell.

Professor Craven wrote an opinion piece for The Australian newspaper entitled “George Pell: a case in which justice never had a fair chance” after a suppression order banning coverage of the cardinal’s conviction for child sexual abuse was lifted.

In a letter to Mr Fahey earlier this month, Dr Leah Kauffman, president of the ACU branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, accused the vice-chancellor of "clear hypocrisy".

Institutions should not adopt final positions in criminal cases until the independent judicial process is complete

John Fahey, Chancellor of Australian Catholic University

She called for Professor Craven to be sanctioned for the column, which was published on the same day an email from the vice-chancellor was sent to ACU staff. The email read: "The University respects the judicial process and will not be making any comment until all legal avenues including any appeal have been concluded."

In the same letter, Dr Kauffman asked that the name of the Pell centre in Ballarat be changed, and a portrait of Pell be removed from ACU’s North Sydney campus.

Professor Greg Craven, the vice-chancellor of ACU. Picture: Supplied.

Professor Greg Craven, the vice-chancellor of ACU. Picture: Supplied.

In response, Mr Fahey, he wrote: “Institutions should not adopt final positions in criminal cases until the independent judicial process is complete.”

He also said that Professor Craven was writing in an individual capacity and dismissed suggestions that the column was insensitive to victims. “His article was entirely about the extraneous pressures applied by the media to the criminal process, and their problematic effects."

“As to the issue of portraits of Cardinal Pell and structures named after him, this will be resolved, at the conclusion of proceedings, should the need arise.”

I am disappointed you have refused the opportunity to distance our university from this position

Dr Leah Kauffman, president of the ACU branch of the National Tertiary Education Union

His approach lies in contrast to the actions of St Patrick’s College in Ballarat, where George Pell’s name has been crossed out on the school’s honour board recording old boys who have gone on to be ordained as priests. The name of one the school's historic buildings was also changed from Pell Wing to Waterford Wing. The school's principal John Crowley announced the move on the day news of Pell’s conviction broke.

In response Dr Kauffmann said she recognised Professor Craven's right to state his personal view, but said his comments could be seen by objective observers as the ACU defending a convicted paedophile. She said she was disappointed Mr Fahey had "refused the opportunity to distance our university from this position.”

Professor Craven visited the ACU’s Ballarat campus yesterday (Thursday March 14). The Courier understands he was addressing staff. An ACU spokesperson turned down a request for details of what was discussed.