The head of one of the biggest departments at Edith Cowan University (ECU) has handed in his resignation after staff came forward with complaints of a “culture of bullying and fear” which had led many senior academics to leave.

Staff in the university’s School of Education were told that executive dean Stephen Winn had officially resigned when they met with management over the complaints in May.

While the complaints were against management as a whole, Dr Peter Prout, who until last year was an academic in the department, said Winn had been one of the main instigators.

Vice Chancellor Steve Chapman said that following a cultural review of the school, the next step was to “embark on a significant cultural improvement program.”

“Consequently, both Professor Winn and I were in agreement that it is appropriate he pass the baton on to the next person to take the school forward,” he said.

“ECU will shortly commence the process of recruiting a new executive dean. In the meantime, I know we have a very capable executive leadership group within the School who will lead us in starting this process of cultural improvement from today.”

Last year, several academics took their complaints to the university’s human resources department, which led to the external review.

Prout was one. He said he had witnessed his colleagues get “ripped to shreds” by management, saying that Winn in particular had created “a culture of bullying and fear”.

“That to me is just disgraceful behaviour. I was there for 20 years … I left in June last year … I am 77, so I figured I don’t have to put up with this sort of stuff anymore … but I would go back and see my colleagues, and it broke my heart to see how exhausted they were,” he said.

“So many good ones have left … but some of them can’t leave because that’s the career path they have set out on. I fear for other younger staff who have been bullied unmercifully.

Dr Peter Prout worked at ECU in the department of education for almost two decades, but left last year due to the toxic environment.

“You’d find them in tears because of the way the dean would speak to them and accuse them of lying and things like that, it has just been abominable.”

Prout said he had first noticed a shift in the workplace culture about five years ago, when funding to universities was cut.

Since then, with fewer staff, the pressure and stress had grown and Prout said there had been no direction on how that was to be managed.

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