Chancellor of the University of New England resigns after assault charges

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The vice-chancellor of the University of New England has resigned after she was charged with violence over an International Women’s Day in which she allegedly wiped saliva on a schoolgirl’s face while commenting on the color of her skin.

Brigid Heywood, who has led the university since 2019, has been charged with common assault and behaving in an offensive manner in or near a public place following an incident at a club in Armidale in March.

Heywood was at the club to speak on a panel marking International Women’s Day and has been accused by the schoolgirl’s family of rubbing the spit on the girl’s forehead.

UNE Chancellor James Harris confirmed in a statement on Friday evening that the university’s council had accepted Heywood’s resignation.

“The University Council and Professor Heywood acknowledge the criminal allegations against her … and the widespread attention and concern this has received within the University and the wider community,” he said.

Harris said Heywood had formed the opinion that it was in the community’s “best interests” that she resigned, while she continued to “vigorously deny” any truth to the allegations. The council said it did not intend to comment on the charges while they were before the court.

“Both Professor Heywood and the University Council acknowledge the deep hurt felt by many upon hearing of the allegations,” he said. “[The] The council wishes to state clearly that it remains deeply committed to promoting a safe, inclusive and respectful environment.”

Harris recognized Heywood’s “significant contribution” to the university since her tenure in July 2019, including her “strong leadership” during the challenges of the pandemic.

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The girl’s father told the Sydney Morning Herald that the university council “are the ones who need to be put on the spot. The public needs to know how UNE is dragging its heels”. the girl’s father told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“For five months there has been no concern for my daughter,” he said.

He said his daughter has become “withdrawn” since the incident.

NSW Police said a “girl was allegedly assaulted at an event at a club in Armidale on Tuesday 8 March 2022”.

“After extensive enquiries, officers attached to the New England Police District issued a 65-year-old female a future court appearance notice for common assault and disorderly conduct (sic) in/near public place/school.”

National Territory Education Union NSW divisional secretary Damien Cahill said the union was “shocked” by the allegations.

As chancellor, Heywood answered to the university’s council and chancellor, and had an annual salary of $676,000.

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Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall, whose electorate includes Armidale, where the university is based, previously called on Heywood to stand down until the court proceedings are concluded.

“The University of New England Council, as the employer of the chancellor, has the power and authority to dismiss the chancellor, and as someone who has always proudly supported and defended the university, I am asking the council to move quickly in this direction,” he said.

Heywood will appear in Armidale Local Court on September 26.

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