“SOME Old Collegians remember him as a fine teacher, but the fraud he perpetrated was unacceptable. By claiming to be a qualified and registered teacher when he was neither, he exploited the students, their parents and the school.”
Speaking to The AJN, that was the reaction of Mount Scopus Memorial College principal Rabbi James Kennard last week, after a highly regarded former teacher was given a three-month suspended sentence for lying about his qualifications to get a job at the school in 1976.
Neil Lennie taught physics and maths at Scopus, rising to the position of deputy headmaster of the secondary school, before leaving in 1987. He went on to teach at a number of other prestigious schools, including Haileybury College and Overnewton Anglican Community College. He also served a number of years as principal of Caulfield Grammar School.
However, he never completed a tertiary education course and used his father’s legitimate teacher registration to secure jobs.
Earlier this month, the 73-year-old admitted obtaining $843,567 in remuneration by deception.
Describing his crime as “reprehensible”, Judge Patricia Riddell handed down a three-month suspended sentence for the fraud committed securing his post at Scopus and a year-long community correction order for the deception in getting jobs at the other schools.
However, she rejected claims that Lennie was motivated by greed, stating he saw teaching as “a vocation, a calling” and that he “enhanced the lives of persons at each of those schools through the dedication of your chosen career”.
She also noted how respected he was by students, noting they hailed him as “one of the most outstanding and influential teachers they were fortunate to have”.
A number of his former pupils wrote letters to the court, among them Scopus alumni Professor Sharon Lewin and Pip Mushin.
Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute and one of Australia’s top scientists who has played a key role in tackling COVID-19, said she often credited Lennie with “my enduring love of science, pursuit of academic excellence and self-belief in my own capabilities in science”.
She added, “I remember him very clearly telling me that I was capable of doing anything in life and to shoot for the stars.
“As a young woman in the 1970s, I now understand that this kind of encouragement for women in science was most unusual.”
Mushin, now an acclaimed actor and director, recalled how “inspired” he was as a young performer, when Lennie helped out at rehearsals for a school play.
The prosecution has called for Lennie to repay the $843,000 he received in wages from the schools. Judge Riddell said she would rule on that at a later date.