Professor fights sacking, claims bribery and corruption

A Sydney professor who claims to have exposed corruption at Australia's oldest university has been accused of installing an unauthorised camera in his office and improperly asking to dissect a colleague's late wife's brain.

University of Sydney neuropathology academic Manuel Graeber was sacked over allegations of serious misconduct in November, an action he said was unlawful and due to his complaints of bribery and mismanagement.

In a Federal Court lawsuit filed in January, Professor Graeber said he had asked the university's vice-chancellor to investigate his complaint of colleagues' misconduct in March 2021.

He also complained to management that he had been excluded and bullied while in his post as chair of brain-tumour research at the university.

Management then lodged allegations of misconduct against him three times from 2021 to 2023, according to Prof Graeber's statement of claim.

It finally told him his behaviour was "serious misconduct" and terminated his employment.

Prof Graeber, who was president of the university's association of professors, has accused the institution of taking adverse action against him because of his whistleblowing.

The institution also breached workplace contractual terms by failing to give him notice before the dismissal, he said.

Prof Graeber is seeking damages for economic loss, reputational harm and "hurt, distress and humiliation".

But the university - one of the nation's group of prestigious so-called "sandstone universities" - has denied the neuropathologist's claims, arguing he was fired because of his own misconduct.

Prof Graeber alleged that a professor "attempted to bribe and blackmail another staff member", but this complaint was not made following procedures for reporting allegations of corrupt conduct, the tertiary institution said in its defence.

The university said Prof Graeber was repeatedly warned over his misconduct, including the unauthorised installation of a security camera in his office.

The neuropathologist refused to follow "reasonable and lawful" directions given by his superiors and acted inconsistently with his obligations, its defence said.

Prof Graeber also made an ethics application on behalf of a colleague to dissect their late wife's brain, which was contrary to university policy, the court was told.

"(Prof Graeber) reasonably should have been aware that the ethics application would not be approved in that form," the university said in its defence.

He was also accused of sharing confidential information, failing to properly perform his teaching duties and making statements with "no reasonable factual foundation" that could damage the reputation of others.

In a brief reply filed with the court, the neuropathologist denied the allegations.

Prof Graeber told AAP he had been targeted by university management and dismissed on misconduct allegations that were false.

"The current management is not the University of Sydney which I see myself defending along with others," he said.

"I experienced massive harassment after making a public interest disclosure and my research environment was systematically dismantled."

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said the professor had been terminated after more than 15 concerns about his conduct were raised, including acting contrary to the best interests of three of his students.

"He was found to have acted in breach of the enterprise agreement, his contract of employment and a number of university policies," she said. 

The matter will next come before the Federal Court on June 4 after mediation.

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