VC’s Blog – stepping down; international students return

3 February 2023

Hi everyone, 

As you may have seen at my State of the University address, I have announced my intention to finish up as Vice-Chancellor at the end of the year. I did not make this decision lightly - I have loved and continue to love, my time as VC. I was lost for words and truly moved by the response from our community at the end of my address and in the 24 hours subsequently. I've received many generous emails, messages and even a petition to rename the Badger and Co chicken schnitzel to the 'Schmitty Schnitty' ... There are less becoming versions of that, so I will call it a win.  

Next year, I am planning to continue at ANU, with my research and teaching. While I hope to be able to start 2024 back at Mt Stromlo, if I need to stay on as VC to allow for a smooth transition, I will do so. I have told Council this is not an excuse to go slow on the appointment process and the Chancellor will outline the process to appoint my successor in the weeks ahead. 

There will be plenty of time to talk about the end of the year, but I still have at least 11 months to go, and there is still so much for us all to get done.  

I have just returned from a huge time away. First, I was on leave in Canada and the US and then I was back in Canberra for a seven hour stop where I changed suitcases, before heading off for a three week work trip. My family and I spent almost two weeks with my Dad in Canada and had a truly white Christmas (unfortunately without our bags which were lost for the first six days!). We then travelled to my motherland of Montana, where the family got to see the country on which I grew up, and visit Yellowstone National Park. It was my first trip home to Montana in 29 years, and it was nice to finally share it with my two sons.  

After flying back to Canberra to check on the vines (they are looking great, but a month behind their normal schedule) and get a suitable change of clothes, I flew out to Singapore, where I serve on the Singaporean ARC Board. It's a lot like our ARC, except it gives out more money, and ministers never override our decisions. From there, it was off to Zurich, where I met up with the leaders of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). While it is a bit depressing to see how the resources these universities have access to have grown compared to ourselves, it is re-assuring that the same basic issues confronting us, are also confronting them.  

From Zurich I took a bus up the valley to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting.  The WEF remains an event that many people love to hate. While some of it is deserved, it is a place where many of the movers and shakers of the world get together and think about the challenges of the world. ANU attends because we have a lot to offer when it comes to making the world a better place, and I want to be in the room with changemakers, even if I do not always like or agree with them. The Chancellor, Professor Genevieve Bell and I were all invited, and we participated in a variety of panel discussions and events which had a strong focus around climate change, the crisis unfolding in Ukraine, AI and quantum, and the global response to rebuilding our economies as we emerge from COVID-19. We also hosted our annual 'Australia in Davos' reception, and it was a great night to meet with nearly a 100 fellow Australians based all over the world who were attending and contributing to these discussions. 

 As I landed, the Chinese government amended their requirements for students studying internationally with a push to return to face-to-face learning for semester 1. So while I cannot wait to welcome everyone home to campus, many of our students are a bit concerned about what this means for them. We are working to make the return back to campus as easy as possible, and will be flexible for those who encounter difficulties. As we announced last year, we will still offer some courses remotely this semester for those who can't come to campus, but I am delighted that by O-Week, we will see our community largely return to Canberra. I thank our teachers and tutors for the great job they have done since COVID to make remote classes both engaging and accessible.  

Back on campus, I have enjoyed my first week with a visit to the ANU College of Business and Economics to open the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) course. This program is now in its third year, and in partnership with the public service we are empowering students to work with First Nations communities and give them the confidence to use their voices to make change. Congratulations to Ben Mitchell, Steven Roberts, Vinh Lu, Asmi Wood, and Aunty Anne Martin for your championing of this course. It is really making a difference.  

Finally, it is hard to miss the discussions around ChatGPT across campus and in the broader community (ANU Reporter has a great explainer which I encourage you to read). For me, I reflect that we are living in a world of rapidly progressing technology that is changing the way we can interact with one another. There is genuine concern about this technology replacing industries and jobs - but I also consider that this type of AI can make us superhuman compared to what we are used to. Our job is to ensure people are empowered by technology, not replaced by it.  

I am off to the Central Coast for a wedding this weekend, my nephew is getting married on the beach, and we are contributing the wedding cake!  

Have a good weekend,