VC’s update – masks, top uni accolade and reflections

25 February 2022

Hello everyone  

It's been great to be back on campus, particularly that we were able to welcome our 2022 cohort of students at Commencement last week and see classes get under way for all our students on campus on Monday. 

Now that our academic new year has well and truly begun, I am also looking forward to our campus celebration of Lunar New Year tomorrow in Kambri. This will be an opportunity for our community to come together and celebrate our diversity and observe one of the most significant dates on the Lunar calendar. There will be traditional Chinese performances including a lion dance, calligraphy, origami, and cultural movies. There will even be Mahjong if you fancy a game - it is not a skill I yet have. You can register here.

An important aspect of getting back to campus activities is being aware that COVID is still around and remaining vigilant in our COVID-safe behaviours. Our health advice is that wearing a mask is a simple and effective way to protect ourselves and others, so ANU will continue to require masks indoors for the foreseeable future in line with our settings at the start of semester - even when government restrictions are relaxed in some settings later this afternoon. We planned our semester one on campus with certain conditions in place, including mask wearing, and these settings are consistent with our COVID-safe Guidelines. I don't enjoy wearing masks, but they are, at this point, a necessary intervention to help ensure we stop COVID spreading within our work and study places. 

As you will have seen, it's been a particularly challenging start to the semester for some of our residential students who, as a younger population in a city where restrictions are loosening, found themselves exposed to COVID. We always knew there would be some COVID cases in our community and the number of cases appears to be tailing off. I want to thank everyone for the way they have approached the obstacles they've faced this week. I am thinking of all our students who are isolating while commencing their studies. I wish them a speedy recovery and commend them for their goodwill and patience. I also want to thank the staff in the residences and those from across all areas of campus who have stepped up to help ensure our students are well looked after.  

I also want to once again thank everyone who responded to the vaccine survey we sent in late January. We know from this and other consultation with our community that there is widespread support for vaccinations. At this stage our health advice is not to introduce a broad vaccine mandate across our community, but will continue to monitor the public health advice and consult with our community. We are lucky to have our main campus situated in one of the most vaccinated cities in the world. I strongly encourage you to stay up to date with your vaccinations - you can get your booster dose on campus through the ANU Medical Clinic and the University Pharmacy. You want to have your immune system maximally ready to fight off COVID in whatever form it takes, now and into the future. 

I know that for many people, including me, being back on campus is wonderful. But I also understand not everyone feels that way. I ask everyone to continue to show patience and kindness and respect to each other, and please look out for those around you. We're going to have to spend the semester understanding how to be on campus together with the pandemic still around. And please look after yourself.  

I'd also like to encourage our staff and students who may be impacted by the conflict in Ukraine to reach out if you need support. I can only imagine what a distressing time it is for you all, particularly our students who are away from home. Our thoughts are with you and we can help support you with your studies and wellbeing. You can also email directly. 

I am very pleased that five Australian-American Fulbright scholarships have been awarded to ANU staff, students and alumni. Congratulations to Professor John McLean Bennett II, Dr Elise Stephenson, James Beattie, Jennifer Darmody and Kate Gloebiowska - all of whom represent the top tier of talent across their fields. Their scholarships will focus on things from agriculture and soil management; gender diversity in space and star-forming gas; civil and human rights movement for women; and immigrant and minority micro-entrepreneurs. I'm excited to see where their work takes them.  

Keen observers will be aware that I have been critical of political interference in the awarding of Australian Research Council (ARC) grants.  Since my State of the University speech a Senate inquiry has been established to consider removing the power held by the minister to veto grant applications that have been approved by the ARC.  This would bring the ARC process into line with the independent assessment models followed in all the world's advanced democracies and provide certainty and fairness for researchers and the university sector.  You can read the ANU submission to the inquiry here.    

I'd like to extend a big congratulations to Professor Katerina Teaiwa from ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and Dr Timo Henckel from the ANU College of Business and Economics. Both have been recognised for going above and beyond for their students in the 2021 Australian Awards for University Teaching. Timo has been recognised for his outstanding contributions to student learning and Katerina has been named the 2021 Australian University Teacher of the Year for her work in preserving the history and culture of the Pacific nations by incorporating song and dance.  Well done Katerina and Timo, I'm glad your excellent work is nationally recognised.  

Most of you will by now be aware of the passing of our friend and colleague Professor Brendan Sargeant earlier this month. Brendan was one of Australia's most respected defence strategists and a respected colleague and academic at ANU. I know many of our community are in mourning and we were so fortunate to have Brendan be part of our ANU family. ANU will host a public memorial to honour Brendan at Llewellyn Hall on 5 March - registration details will be made available early next week. My thoughts are with Brendan's loved ones.  

Have a great weekend. Stay safe.