VC's Update - US election and 100th birthday celebrations

06 Nov 2020

Hi everyone,

This week I have to start by reflecting on the US election. As a dual citizen (US-Australia), I've been watching closely as the election has unfolded. It's been an opportunity to reflect on how important research, science and universities are for our democratic processes.

I normally keep my political views to myself, but I did endorse Joe Biden this year for president along with 80 of my fellow Nobel Laureates. Trump's disregard for science and the conventions of the American Democracy, I felt, were too much not to take a stand. As I write this blog, the results, while strongly favouring Joe Biden, are not yet decided. Whatever the result, America is a deeply divided nation that needs to find a positive way to come together and reignite the American dream. The loss of social mobility and its ramifications as we have seen unfold in the US, and to a lesser amount in the UK and Europe, reinforces to me that we at ANU must be a university for all Australians. This means making sure that every community in Australia knows that their children will have the opportunity to be part of our university based solely on who they are, and not where they were born.  But we have to continue to evolve as an institution to make this outcome a reality.

If history has taught us anything, it's that the world is continually changing. And someone who knows this better than most, is Emeritus Professor Malcolm Whyte who celebrated his 100th birthday last weekend with a virtual zoom bash. He had some great stories of the last century, noting he was born at the end of last global pandemic. My favourite moment came when the hosts were reading out the letter from the Queen, and Malcolm said, "I met the Queen once, just not this Queen". A birthday celebration is a rare thing, and I was elated to be part of it. Amongst Malcom's many achievements, he helped establish Lifeline after retiring from ANU - just one of his enduring legacies. Happy birthday Malcolm!

This Sunday marks the start of NAIDOC Week, where we come together to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There are lots of great community events happening across Australia, but here on campus, we're doing something special. Our Tjabal Centre is hosting a COVID-safe concert in Kambri on Thursday 12 November. We're holding the concert in the amphitheatre and it'll feature live sets from Indigenous musicians. For those not on campus, you can also tune in via the live stream.

In really exciting news, Professor Susan Scott and Professor David McClelland have been recognised for their work in direct detection of gravitational waves with the 2020 Prime Minister's Prize for Science. This is ground-breaking research in physics. Big questions are hard to answer and this work is an extraordinary leap in our understanding of the darkest parts of the Universe.

For those on campus, you may have seen that Fellows Bar has relocated to the Law courtyard while Uni House remains closed each Thursday and Friday afternoon. I've been taking the opportunity to visit when I can to have a drink and catch colleagues from across campus. You can pop in anytime from 3.30pm each Thursday and Friday. You don't need to book but you'll have to follow the COVID-safe guidelines.

Finally, I wanted to end this blog with some more good news. Professor Sir Edward Byrne will be joining ANU in a part-time role as a Distinguished Vice-Chancellor's Fellow in the College of Health and Medicine, and Chair of the ANU TRANSFORM Advisory Board. Sir Ed is one of the world's most respected academic health leaders and his expert guidance will support CHM to finalise and implement the TRANSFORM strategy. Ed will commence in February 2021.

Enjoy the sunny weekend that awaits, made green by the last several months of rain.



P.S. Thanks for all those on Twitter who helped identify the spider that drew blood on Jenny's thumb (Badge Huntsman). The bite still hurts, but it is starting to get better.