The University of New England vice-chancellor has been charged with the assault of a 16-year-old girl.
Police allege Brigid Heywood assaulted the teenage girl at a club in the NSW town of Armidale on March 8.
The teen was not physically injured during the alleged incident.
Professor Heywood, 65, was issued with a court attendance notice on Monday.
She is facing charges relating to common assault and offensive behaviour near a public place or school.
Professor Heywood has been UNE’s vice-chancellor and chief executive since 2019.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said it was shocked to learn of the criminal charges.
“Professor Heywood is one of just 39 vice-chancellors of Australia’s public universities. She holds a position of public trust and national significance,” NTEU NSW secretary Damien Cahill said.
“Professor Heywood is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the allegations requires an appropriate response.”
The union is calling on Ms Heywood to step aside immediately until an outcome has been decided by the courts.
It says if she doesn’t voluntarily resign, the university should stand her down.
“Australians must have confidence that those entrusted with overseeing our public institutions are honest, have integrity and conduct themselves in a proper manner,” Dr Cahill said.
Professor Heywood and The University of New England were contacted for comment.
She will appear at Armidale Local Court on September 26.