(Photo by Ben Coughlan)

Announcing a range of budget initiatives/cuts last month, Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Young announced that, as part of their commitment to improving ANU’s financial position, his Executive team would be returning their two per cent pay rise to the ANU and he would personally be gifting $50’000 of his own salary (much more than two per cent of his salary in case you were wondering).

A question asked by a student who was leaving Llewellyn Hall after the announcements was “who is the ANU Executive anyway?”. We at Woroni thought that was a good question and decided to find out. This is the first in a series of profiles we will be doing on the people who make decisions at ANU: the VC and his team. This week I sat down to interview the Pro Vice-Chancellor (International and Outreach), in his office in the Chancelry.

Quite fittingly, the person who was chosen to fill this particular role, one created by Professor Young (himself, a former Pro-Vice Chancellor (International), is very much an international citizen.  Dr Erik Lithander, originally from Sweden, has been at ANU for just over one year. He and his wife, Dr Fiona Lithander, an academic in the ANU Medical School, moved here from Dublin in what was almost a coming home, since prior to their time at University College Dublin, they were based in Auckland, New Zealand (the Pro Vice-Chancellor is also a New Zealand citizen). He has degrees from the London School of Economics and the University of Cambridge.

According to the ANU website, Dr Lithander’s job is to provide leadership on international partnerships and international government relations, international students at ANU, national and international student recruitment and admissions, and brand and reputation management. Instead of getting a detailed explanation of his job description, I asked him what he is working on and what some of his specific goals were. His first was quite bold: “I would like to provide ANU students with a much broader range of opportunities to learn in an international context”.

Dr Lithander said he was fortunate to come to ANU where so much of the “building blocks” of what his portfolio covers are already in place.  “Developing international links is happening everywhere already… and I don’t have to convince students to go abroad on international opportunities, they do it already.  My job is to group them in a way which will help ANU improve its profile, improve its position, improve its performance”.

When asked why he moved to Australia, the Pro Vice-Chancellor said that he was attracted to working at one of the world’s great universities in one of the world’s great countries. “What about Canberra?”, I asked. He responded, “Canberra is a fantastic city to live in. If you like the outdoor life, which we do, then it’s right on your doorstep, and for a city which is as wealthy and as political as it is, it’s not a very pretentious city and I really appreciate that about Canberra. Anyone who listens, I’ll tell them Canberra is a fabulous place to live.” With that extremely positive review of Canberra, I asked how much time he actually spends here because presumably much of his time is spent overseas building ANU’s links and international profile. “I do travel. But since I am quite new, I am trying to spend as much time on campus as I can to get to know people, know my teams and understand the place. That’s the best way I can promote the ANU when I’m out there”.

When is the last time you spoke with an ANU student and what did you talk about?

“The most recent student I spoke to was a prospective student but the most recent ANU student was the student speaker at a recent graduation. We spoke about her time at ANU and she was so engaging and, like all ANU students I’ve met, very challenging and courageous.”

Who is a great inspiration for you?

“One of my inspirations, up until recently, was Lance Armstrong. Because I do a lot of sport and I read his books, I was mesmerised by his stories. But like many others, I am now having to reconsider who my sporting inspiration is!”

“At a personal level, I am inspired by people who set themselves really difficult objectives and, despite everything else going on in their lives, they’re able to focus and dedicate themselves to something which is often bigger than themselves. At a professional level, there is inspiration everywhere that you look.”

What’s your favourite cafe on campus and why?

“I have two answers for that. My favourite coffee is in the Street Theatre. They make terrific coffee. And it’s a lot of fun to go to Chats in the Art School because you get called “honey”. There’s something very pleasing starting the day by being called “honey” when you get your coffee.”

Do you read Woroni?

[Pause]. [Smiles nervously]. “Not regularly.”

Three words to describe your boss (Vice Chancellor Ian Young)?

“Measured. [Long Pause]. Driven. [Short Pause]. Inclusive.”

If you have any specific question you think we should ask in future interviews, please email them to areti@woroni.com.au.