A former University of Newcastle professor has won compensation after the Fair Work Commission ruled his dismissal was harsh – he was dismissed in February last year for alleged serious misconduct.
Following an investigation the university found Jesse Sheng Jin had misappropriated funds awarded for research, instead using the money to fund air fares, wine, massage and reflexology, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, a camera, a noodle maker, speaker systems, groceries, bedding and tourist attraction tickets.
The academic had been involved in high-level research designed to achieve early diagnosis of diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's – yet Jin was found to have inappropriately obtained reimbursement for expenses supposedly related to the research.
In his judgment, Commission deputy president Greg Smith found that Professor Jin genuinely believed he was entitled to spend the money, and that many of the expenses were consistent with grant guidelines. Smith quoted Jin in an earlier investigation as having said he believed intellectual freedom gives him licence to use his research funds unhindered.
While accepting the breaches were serious in nature, Smith did not agree they constituted serious misconduct, and said while he accepted the university had a valid reason for sacking Professor Jin, dismissal was too harsh an outcome. He did not find that Professor Jin “engaged in wilful and deliberate behaviour contrary to the lawful and reasonable direction of the university”.
On the questions of reinstatement, Professor Jin's lawyers said he did not have to be a chief investigator if he resumed employment at the university. Smith said it would be absurd to reinstate Jin to a position involving financial decision making, but that a reinstatement must be equal in scoep to the position previously held.
The university told The Australian, "This is an important matter for the university given the principles underlying the case, and we note the findings of deputy president Smith.”
In an earlier statement to the commission, Shi Xue Dou, a professor at the University of Wollongong, said “it would be a tragedy” if Professor Jin's research work did not progress.