Peter Rathjen

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Peter Rathjen
Born (1964-02-12) 12 February 1964 (age 57)
Alma mater
OccupationBiochemist and academic administrator
Vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide
In office
8 January 2018 (2018-01-08) – 20 July 2020 (2020-07-20)
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania
In office

Peter David Rathjen (born 12 February 1964 in Cambridge, England) is an Australian scientist and medical researcher. He was the 22nd Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, from January 2018[1][2] through July 2020. He was previously the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania from 2011 to 2017.


Born in the United Kingdom, Rathjen moved to South Australia in 1965 when he was a child. He was educated at Blackwood High School in Adelaide. He studied Science at the University of Adelaide, majoring in biochemistry and genetics, and completing an honours degree.

Rathjen was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to New College, Oxford in 1985. He was awarded a DPhil in 1987, and then worked as a postdoctoral researcher on embryonic stem cells from 1988 to 1990.

Rathjen returned to the University of Adelaide, where he worked as Lecturer in Biochemistry from 1990 to 1995 and Professor in Biochemistry from 1995 to 2006. He was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry in 1995. He became Head of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in 2000, and became Foundation Executive Dean of the Faculty of Sciences in 2002, a role he kept until 2005.

He was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne in 2006; in 2008, he became Dean of the Graduate School of Science, and from 2008 to 2011 he served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research). He was involved in Melbourne's controversial program of 'focused excellence', that shed some staff positions in order to reduce a growing debt.

In April 2011 Rathjen took up the role of Vice-Chancellor at the University of Tasmania.[3] During his vice-chancellorship, he promoted the University as a driver of socio-economic prosperity in Tasmania, including plans to move University of Tasmania campuses into CBD districts in Burnie, Launceston (yet to be completed), and Hobart (yet to be completed). During his vice-chancellorship, the university launched new associate degree programs.[4][5] However, controversies during Rathjen's vice-chancellorship included the use of university funds for what was perceived as "travelling the globe in style", spending $50,000 in less than 6 months.[6][7] In August 2020, a freedom of information request from the ABC revealed Rathjen spent more than $277 thousand on business travel over four years during his tenure as Vice-Chancellor. His wife, Joy Rathjen, also a University of Tasmania employee, accompanied him on nine of the business class trips, costing the University $57,083.[8]

In 2018, Rathjen returned to the University of Adelaide in the roles of Vice-Chancellor and President,[1] in succession to Mike Brooks.

In May 2020, Rathjen commenced an indefinite leave of absence after University of Adelaide Chancellor Kevin Scarce resigned without public explanation the previous day.[9] Later in the week, the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) confirmed he was investigating allegations of improper conduct by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide.[10] Rathjen, accused of engaging in "a personal relationship with a staff member",[11] was succeeded by Acting Vice-Chancellor Mike Brooks. Rathjen formally resigned in July 2020,[12] "due to ill health".[13] In August 2020, the ICAC found that Rathjen had committed "serious misconduct" by sexually harassing two University of Adelaide colleagues, had lied to the then Chancellor Kevin Scarce, and also lied to the Commissioner in his evidence with respect to an investigation of sexual misconduct with a postgraduate student when he was employed at the University of Melbourne.[14] The ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander acknowledged there were "further issues" in the full 170-page report on the investigation which he chose not to release due to privacy concerns surrounding the victims, instead releasing an abridged 12-page version ‘Statement about an Investigation: Misconduct by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide’.[15] In determining his findings, the Commissioner relied in part on the personal blog of US journalist Michael Balter who documented Rathjen's prior history of sexual harassment, and was largely responsible for bringing the matter to the public's attention, and ultimately ICAC's. The ICAC Commissioner's damning findings against Rathjen have put the University of Adelaide's culture under intense scrutiny in both the local and international media.[16]


  1. ^ a b Clark, Nick (30 May 2017). "University of Tasmania vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen takes post at University of Adelaide". The Mercury. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  2. ^ "Professor Peter Rathjen, Vice-Chancellor and President". Office of the Vice-Chancellor and President. University of Adelaide. 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  3. ^ Smith, Linda (2 May 2011). "Anger at uni boss's criticism". The Mercury. Archived from the original on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  4. ^ Hare, Julie (25 February 2017). "University pushes $400m science unit relocation". The Australian. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  5. ^ Hare, Julie (30 August 2016). "How to educate underperforming Tasmania". The Australian. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  6. ^ Bolger, Rosemary (4 March 2016). "Travel costs of University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor, Peter Rathjen, disappoints union". ABC. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  7. ^ Burgess, Georgie (29 September 2017). "Vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen to take university-funded trip weeks before signing off". ABC. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  8. ^ Humphries, Alexandra (18 August 2020). "Former University of Tasmania vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen's $277,000 travel bill". ABC. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  9. ^ Siebert, Bension (5 May 2020). "No explanation as University of Adelaide's two top leaders step down". ABC News. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  10. ^ Harmsen, Nick (7 May 2020). "ICAC investigating alleged 'improper conduct' by University of Adelaide vice-chancellor". ABC News. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  11. ^ Dodd, Tim; Penberthy, David (8 May 2020). "Uni chief faces misconduct probe". The Australian. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  12. ^ Penberthy, David (17 July 2020). "University of Adelaide in global hunt for new vice-chancellor as talk of merger rekindled". The Australian. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  13. ^ "Adelaide University vice-chancellor, investigated by ICAC, resigns 'due to ill health'". 20 July 2020. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  14. ^ "'Egregious disrespect': University vice-chancellor sexually harassed colleagues, ICAC finds". 26 August 2020. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  15. ^ "Statement about an Investigation: Misconduct by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide" (PDF). 26 August 2020. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  16. ^ "Sexual harassment: university's culture under scrutiny after damning findings against vice-chancellor". 30 August 2020. Retrieved 31 August 2020.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Daryl Le Grew
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Preceded by Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide
Succeeded by
Mike Brooks /
Peter Høj