The Australian National University has come under fire from academic staff and students for its selection process of the next ANU Vice-Chancellor. The university has been criticised for its lack of transparency and a failure to consult students regarding the appointment of VC Ian Young’s replacement. Concern has also been raised that the university could appoint a “career bureaucrat” to the role.
An ANU Professor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has expressed their worry to Woroni that the university may appoint a Vice Chancellor who does not maintain the scholarly integrity of the ANU. “I hope that they resist the urge of following the trend in Australia and England of appointing a professional manager to run the university.”
Previous Vice Chancellor Ian Young was heavily criticised for being “too focused on finances,” especially surrounding cuts to the School of Music.
Lachlan Arthur, a PhB student and Tuckwell Scholar, said, “I think most ANU students understand that running a university is a balance between managing finances and delivering a high standard of education, but I think many students fear that this balance is becoming more distorted as time goes by as the ANU takes a financially driven approach.”
However, ANU Executive Director, Chris Grange, said, “the academic standing of the candidate is the number one criteria… [and] that being an eminent academic or having world class academic standing isn’t necessarily limited to scientists.”
Gareth Evans, who is staying on as Chancellor to elect the next Vice Chancellor, said, “what the governing body is looking for in our new Vice-Chancellor… is a leader who… unequivocally shares our passion for excellence.” The VC selection committee itself is made up of some of ANU’s best academics.
However, these reassurances are not enough for students who believe that the selection process is non-transparent. The university has said that the candidates’ names must be kept confidential to maintain the integrity of the application process. As such, the university has said that the process cannot be consultative of students without releasing this private information.
But for some students, this is not a sufficient justification.
Lachlan Arthur believes that students should have been consulted. “I think its horrendous that ANU students have barely been informed that the selection process for the new Vice Chancellor is underway, let alone the fact that the student body has had almost no opportunity to voice what general vision they would like from the new Vice Chancellor.”
President of PARSA, Ben Niles, is the only student representative on the VC selection committee; there are no undergraduate student representatives.
However, the university has made efforts to publicise the process and keep students informed.
Grange said, “It was our intention to make it a very transparent process… If we haven’t managed to get that message, or the availability of that information, out to everyone who’s interested in it then that is a failing on our part.”
However, students believe that what information exists is inaccessible and poorly publicised.
But Grange assures that “we [the Executive] do try really hard to hear what students say… So if there’s a view from students that there are things that we could improve on next time round we’ll listen to that.”
It seems like only time will tell whether or not the selection committee has done enough to stay in touch with the student and staff vision for the Vice Chancellor. The stakes are high as, in words of the anonymous Professor, getting the appointment wrong “could be disastrous for Australia’s best university.”
Candidates were shortlisted in May, and the interviews will occur between the 20-22 of June. The appointment will be made on the 28 June, and the decision will be announced at a later time.