Friendships the enduring legacy of 12 exciting years

by Emeritus Professor John Hay AC

 (from left) Ben, Barbara, Chris, John and Tim after the Queensland Greats ceremony in June 2007. Daughter Kate was in Melbourne and unable to attend the presentation.
The Hay family: (from left) Ben, Barbara, Chris, John and Tim after the Queensland Greats ceremony in June 2007. Daughter Kate was in Melbourne and unable to attend the presentation.

Looking back, it seems that I first thought seriously about The University of Queensland in 1994, when it was suggested I apply for the position of Vice-Chancellor. In the year between my being appointed and coming up to Brisbane in January 1996 with my wife Barbara and our young twins, Ben and Tim, I had little time to balance the opinions of my colleagues and friends who thought UQ offered exciting challenges and those who, to put it circumspectly, thought my decision ill-advised. Twelve exhilarating years later, it now seems that even my most optimistic expectations fell far short of what came to pass as UQ achieved new levels of excellence and an enviable reputation both within and beyond Australia. Many of my dreams and aspirations, like those of many of my colleagues, came to fruition.

For as long as I can remember, literature, the arts and the challenge of new ideas have compelled my imagination, just as the aspiration to teach and undertake research shaped my life. For me, the greatest privileges of being a Vice-Chancellor are the company of men and women imbued with a passion for ideas and the opportunity to act as a committed advocate for those ideas in a manner that leads to tangible and significant outcomes.

Starting my time at UQ by changing dramatically its academic and administrative structures and by introducing policies which called for teaching, research and administrative priorities to be identified and used to determine the distribution of funding may have seemed a risky move. But since, under the leadership of my predecessor, Brian Wilson, UQ already had a fine reputation in both teaching and research, it seemed to me appropriate to invite the staff at UQ to play a key role in determining such matters. The level of consensus achieved was remarkable and the outcomes have proved exceptionally resilient. At the same time, I sought to establish policies and priorities that would occasion major changes in the quality of both the buildings and grounds of UQ. It is no secret that, in my first months at UQ, I was dismayed by many of the things that had been built on the St Lucia campus and quietly determined that, at the end of my time here, things would be better. Thanks to Alasdair McClintock and his staff, wonderful changes have taken place.

Just over a decade ago, the then Lord Mayor, Jim Soorley, arranged a meeting at Brisbane’s Irish Club (the day before St Patrick’s Day) between Chuck Feeney and me which saw the beginning of an extraordinary stream of support from the Atlantic Philanthropies for major UQ projects that has had no equal in Australia. By committing UQ to match every dollar given to it by the Atlantic Philanthropies and by my persuading, first, Premier Rob Borbidge and then, most significantly, Premier Peter Beattie to do the same (and much more) through his inspirational Smart State policy, it became possible for UQ to embark upon the construction of a nationally unprecedented series of research institutes, the new UQ Centre, the transformed James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre housing UQ’s superb Art Museum, a program of scholarships for Vietnamese students and much else.

What has excited and gratified me most about many of these new projects is that all of the architects involved designed buildings that fulfilled the hopes of the staff and students who were to work in them and enhanced significantly the aesthetic quality of the campus. Moreoever, the new projects attracted to UQ unprecedented numbers of outstanding new staff and students from prestigious international institutions as well as from envious sister universities in Australia.

It has been, of course, immensely gratifying to have seen UQ’s income from competitive research grants increase dramatically, its performance in winning more awards for excellence in teaching and learning than the nation’s second and third best performing universities combined and its new research institutes and teaching and learning spaces recognised as international benchmarks for excellence and innovation.

But my most cherished memories are the enduring, personal ones that have made UQ part of my life: the friendship and support of the Chancellor, Sir Llewellyn Edwards and his many colleagues on the UQ Senate; the pleasure and privilege of working with the strongest senior executive group in any Australian university: Paul Greenfield (whom I am delighted to acknowledge as my successor), Michael Keniger, David Siddle, Trevor Grigg, Douglas Porter, Alan Rix, Mark Gould, Debbie Terry and Linda Bird; the dedication and tolerance of my small office staff, especially Jenny Reilly and Tara Kitch and, above all, the love and support of my family, Barbara, Chris, Kate, Tim and Ben. More than anyone, it is Barbara who has shared most of my life and shaped it in ways that no words can ever express adequately.