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The Making of The Australian National University

The Making of The Australian National University: 1946-1996 OPEN ACCESS

S.G. Foster
Margaret M. Varghese
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hdt9
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  • Book Info
    The Making of The Australian National University
    Book Description:

    The Australian National University has always been a university with a difference. Conceived in the mid-1940s to serve Australia's post-war needs for advanced research and postgraduate training, it quickly embraced the ideals and traditions of Oxford and Cambridge. Undergraduate teaching was introduced in 1960, following amalgamation with Canberra University College. The University continued to adapt to changes in Australian society, while retaining much of its unique structure and objectives. Stephen Foster and Margaret Varghese trace the history of ANU from its wartime origins to its fiftieth anniversary in 1996, featuring many of the prominent Australians who contributed to its making: 'Nugget' Coombs, Howard Florey, Mark Oliphant, W.K. Hancock, Douglas Copland, John Crawford, Peter Karmel; and others who stood out in particular fields, such as J.C.Eccles, Arthur Birch, Manning Clark, Russell Mathews, Ernest Titterton, Beryl Rawson, John Mulvaney, John Passmore and Frank Fenner. The Making of The Australian National University explores many themes in higher education during the last half century, including academic freedom, relations between universities and politicians, recruitment practices, the 'two cultures' of science and the humanities, collegial versus managerial structures, equality of opportunity, student politics, academics and architecture and universities in the marketplace. This is an affectionate and critical account of a remarkable Australian institution; and, more broadly, a fascinating study of how institutions work.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-63-2
    Subjects: Education
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Table of Contents

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  1. Preamble (pp. ix-xii)

    ‘Look at the Basic Papers’ SAID Ross Hohnen when we first talked to him after starting work on this history. That sounded like good advice. After all, Hohnen had been appointed to the staff of the University soon after its inception, and had served it as Registrar, later as Secretary, for over 25 years. If anyone knew where best to start, surely he would be the one.

    We omitted to ask where the Basic Papers were to be found. With a name like that, they would surely turn up before long. Weeks passed, then months, and still no Basic Papers....

  2. From the beginnings to 1960
    • 1 The planners (pp. 3-19)

      ‘We are all happy, are we’, said Nugget Coombs as the meeting broke up late one evening, ‘that it will be a full research university?’

      The meeting, or rather talking session, was one of many that took place in Melbourne and Sydney during the war years, attended by some or all of the usual crowd: Pansy Wright, Alf Conlon, Coombs when he was in the country, and other intellectuals who were, in one way or another, deeply engaged in the war effort, but at the same time thinking ahead to what Australia would look like after the war had been...

    • 2 The maestros (pp. 20-50)

      In April 1946 Coombs set out on a long trip to London, Washington and Tokyo with the Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. In London Chifley was to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, and Coombs was to assist him in matters relating chiefly to economic planning and international financial agreements. Coombs was also to talk to distinguished expatriate Australian scholars about the prospect of their taking up positions at the proposed national university, and if possible to arrange meetings between them and the Prime Minister.

      Conlon and Wright were on tenterhooks. Ever since their meeting with Florey in 1944, they had...

    • 3 Pioneers (pp. 51-82)

      With Hancock out of the way, Copland stepped into the job of recruiting officer for the Social Sciences school, sharing with Firth the task of recruiting for Pacific Studies. A day or two after the exchange on the park bench, he sat down in the same park with W.D. (Mick) Borrie, a demographer who was already on the University’s books as a Social Science Research Fellow. Hancock had provided for a demographer in his plans for the school, and he had approached Borrie several months earlier. Copland now confirmed the invitation, and Borrie became the University’s first appointment in the...

    • 4 Research begins (pp. 83-112)

      For those who were ready to imbibe Copland’s pioneering spirit, the University in the 1950s offered opportunities in abundance. There was money, vastly more than academics in the state universities were used to; and although funds were reduced during the decade by high inflation and limits on government spending, there were still generous budgets for equipment, travel and new appointments to the academic and support staff. There was time, a luxury for most academics burdened with heavy teaching loads, but especially for those whose research activities had virtually ceased during the war. Freed from teaching responsibilities (except for the occasional...

    • The academics gathered in Canberra for the Easter conferences in 1948 needed reassuring. Would the Australian National University degenerate into an arm of the federal government and bureaucracy? Public servants had been prominent among its makers, and it owed its existence to an Act of the federal parliament. If the circumstances of its birth were not sufficient liability, growing up in such close proximity to politicians and public servants surely would be.

      The issue seemed most urgent at the Pacific Studies conference, where Paul Hasluck warned that political pressures might influence research planning. The government, he argued, might insist that...

    • 6 The College (pp. 144-159)

      As the first staff of the new University arrived to take up their appointments in 1950, Canberra University College was entering its third decade. The first two had been less than glorious. Despite the optimistic predictions of Sir Robert Garran and other members of the University Association, the College had to struggle from the outset. The timing of its birth had been unlucky: the modest budget of £3000 which provided for the appointment of the first staff scraped through Cabinet just a few weeks before Wall Street collapsed, and the ordinance which brought it into being was passed not long...

  3. From 1960 to the mid–1970s
    • In May 1960, several months before amalgamation, Sir Leslie Melville, as he was now called, addressed the University’s seventh annual conferring of degrees ceremony, held as usual in the Albert Hall. This time twenty graduates took out the degree of PhD, many more than in any previous year. Eleven of them were present, along with most members of the academic and administrative staff.

      ‘We have come to the end of a beginning’, said Melville, ‘for this is the last time we shall meet as a purely research university’. He spoke confidently of achievements to date, mentioning specific successes in each...

    • 8 Students (pp. 197-228)

      People in the Institute who saw the School of General Studies as a threat must have been alarmed by the growth of undergraduate numbers in the years following amalgamation. In 1961 there were 948 undergraduates, comprising 497 inherited from Canberra University College and 451 new students. By 1965 total undergraduate enrolments had swelled to 2387, 977 of whom were new enrolments. These figures gave the University an undergraduate growth rate about three times the national average.

      Over the next decade, numbers continued to rise steadily, though not so sharply. By 1976 they had reached 5058, more than double the 1965...

    • 9 New initiatives (pp. 229-250)

      In the heady days of the early 1960s, when the Vice-Chancellor and the heads of schools were contemplating the future of the Institute, several ideas were put forward for new research schools. The makers had always intended that there should be more than four schools, though they did not say how many more, or exactly how, when and why they should be founded. Now, with the original schools well staffed and securely funded, and the government smiling on tertiary education, the time seemed ripe for expansion.

      Two proposed schools received consistent support: chemistry and biological sciences. Whenever these were discussed,...

    • ‘It can be claimed’, wrote Eccles in 1970, several years after his retirement from the ANU, ‘that in our civilization science represents the highest creativity of man, and it provides our best hope of winning through to a deeper understanding of the nature and meaning of existence’. He sought that understanding by exploring the brain, and its relationship with the conscious mind. Yet as a Catholic he believed his search would take him only so far. Scientists could come close to truth, but the ultimate mystery lay beyond their reach. ‘Cannot life be lived as a challenging and wonderful adventure...

  4. From the mid–1970s to the mid–1990s
    • 11 A new era (pp. 285-306)

      The sudden departure of Robert Williams for New Zealand early in 1975 left the University without a vice-chancellor or an obvious successor. After a bumpy electoral process, during which each day’s deliberations of the electoral committee mysteriously found their way into the following morning’s Canberra Times, Council invited Anthony Low, Director of the Research School of Pacific Studies, to take on the job.

      Low had two large assets. First, he was a known quantity. Although he had been in RSPacS for just two years, he had proven himself a capable and popular Director, and had managed to overcome some initial...

    • Karmel’s appointment was indeed a coup. Announcing his acceptance, Crawford described him without exaggeration as ‘the leading figure in Australian tertiary education’. Educated at Melbourne and Cambridge universities, he had lectured in Economics at Melbourne before being appointed in 1950, at the age of 28, to a chair of Economics at Adelaide, where he remained until 1962. During the 1960s he was Principal-Designate, then foundation Vice-Chancellor of the Flinders University of South Australia, as well as Chairman of the Interim Council of the University of Papua and New Guinea and then its first Chancellor. He had contributed to numerous government...

    • In July 1987, nearly six months before Karmel was due to retire as Vice-Chancellor, the Hawke Labor government was re-elected for a third term. The new government proceeded to reorganise the public service into a smaller number of ‘mega-departments’, each presided over by a Cabinet minister. The former Department of Education was subsumed within a new Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET), a name which in itself suggested a major element of government policy: education policies should be closely linked with the restructuring of the workforce.

      The Minister for Employment, Education and Training was John Dawkins, a 40-year-old Western...

    • Despite what Peter Karmel called ‘the cult of the big’, the ANU remained, in student numbers, a medium sized university. The 1976 figure of 5058 undergraduates increased to 8051 in 1995, while postgraduate numbers rose more sharply from 851 to 2327. Expansion of both groups was concentrated in the 1990s. While Masters’ degree and graduate diploma candidates accounted for much of the postgraduate increase, the numbers of PhD scholars nearly doubled. Although the ANU’s share of PhD students throughout Australia fell from 12 to 5 per cent as the degree became more common, the high proportion of such candidates remained...

    • Most weekdays in 1992, Susan Serjeantson, Professor of Human Genetics, rose at 4.00 a.m., wrote and read until breakfast with her family at 7.00, and left for the fifteen-minute drive to the John Curtin School where she arrived about 8.30. Her routines at work differed from day to day, depending on how many meetings or seminars she had to attend; but most of her time was spent conducting research in the laboratory, where she remained until 5.30 p.m. Tall, slim and softly spoken, self-effacing yet single-minded, in many ways she exemplified the dedicated and successful researcher.

      Born near Sydney in...

  5. Ken Inglis, at a grand occasion preceding a two-day seminar to mark his retirement in 1994 as W.K. Hancock Professor of History, told a story about Hancock in later life:

    One day, when he was into his twentieth or so year of retirement, he came into my room—his room, as I suspect he still thought of it—shut the door, and asked if I had heard that there was a danger of so-and-so being appointed our next Director. ‘I don’t know about you’, he said, ‘but if that happened I should feel obliged to resign.’ He didn’t have to....