The chairman of Whitehaven Coal, Mark Vaile, says an “unjust” campaign against him led him to turn down an offer to become chancellor of the University of Newcastle.
Mr Vaile, a former deputy prime minister, emerged as the university’s preferred candidate earlier in June.
But his role with the major mining company was seen by critics as a conflict of interest with the university’s stance on climate change.
Staff and alumni expressed concern about Mr Vaile being in charge while the institution was working to become carbon neutral by 2025.
One academic resigned from the university council in protest and 16 philanthropists announced they would not consider the university for new funding.
Despite Mr Vaile’s public support for the university’s emissions targets, he announced he was declining the job offer.
He said much of the public pressure came from “minority groups placing ideology before proper governance”.
“There has been an unprecedented and unjust campaign against this appointment,” he said.
“I’ve just taken the view that it’s in the best interests of the university and the community that it serves if I decline the invitation and withdraw from the process.”
Mr Vaile said he had a “lifetime of experience” in politics and business that would have been useful to the university.
Search for chancellor resumes
Mr Vaile’s decision was welcomed by economist Richard Denniss, who has lectured in Newcastle.
Mr Denniss had received an alumni award for national leadership from the university but announced he would return it after learning that Mr Vaile was in line to become chancellor.
“I congratulate him on stepping down,” Mr Denniss said.
He said Mr Vaile might have been able to ease into the role if he resigned from Whitehaven.
“The biggest problem facing the Hunter Valley in the next 20 years is going to be the transition away from coal.
“That’s why the community was so worried, they could see a conflict of interest.
“It’s surprising he couldn’t.”
The university council said it respected Mr Vaile’s decision and recognised he made it in the best interests of the institution.
The council will give a further update after it meets today to consider a process to appoint a new chancellor.
Mr Denniss said he hoped the next chancellor would be well-received.
“The community is desperate for the university to lead the transition away from coal,” he said.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity for a restatement of the whole vision of the university.”