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An Enduring Legacy: Ian Chubb's Leadership of ANU

Address by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, Chancellor, to Farewell Dinner to Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb, University House, Australian National University, Canberra, 17 February 2011

On behalf of the University Council, I welcome to this farewell dinner our guests of honour Ian & Claudette Chubb, and all the glittering rest of you who have come to honour their magnificent contribution to ANU over the decade of Ian’s Vice-Chancellorship, and the lifetime of professional service he has given to higher education.

I welcome in particular Ministers and Shadow Ministers Kim Carr, John Stanhope, Kate Lundy and Brett Mason; past Chancellors Peter Baume and Allan Hawke, and Deirdre Jordan from Flinders; departmental heads past and present; other parliamentarians past and present, and a platoon of senior academic colleagues, including Ian’s original great mentor from Woollongong Ken McKinnon.

We have had, as you’d expect, apologies from quite a few more of, in particular, our political leaders who would certainly have been here had we been able, as originally hoped, to combine this dinner with a parliamentary sitting week, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Stephen Smith, Warren Snowdon, and – the most generous of all our alumni – Kevin Rudd.

There’s a sort of apology I should make myself at the outset to those of you who we have taken out of your comfort zone by our “lucky-dip” seating plan for the evening. Ian did express concern to me that some of you who have spent a lifetime together with your partners may be traumatized at the prospect of separation for 2-3 hours, and I suspect that there may be a former Esquire Bedell or two here suffering palpitations at the liberties we have taken with protocol. But in the end the combination of the impossibility of doing individual justice to your collective brilliance, and Ian’s fiercely egalitarian spirit -- and his sense of mischief -- won out, and a lucky dip it was, and is! I hope you enjoy your neighbours, and the evening, and I’m sure you will.


This egalitarian free-for-all that we have imposed upon you this evening is perhaps not a bad place to begin talking about Ian Chubb. For all the nonsense that we sometimes talk on Australia Day and other grand sentimental occasions, there is something really tangible about this country’s egalitarian spirit - which I’ve noticed particularly in the context of the extraordinary success and superb reputation of Australian troops in peacekeeping and stabilization operations, the kind that require effective community relations more than anything else. The Australian disposition to take and relate to people exactly as you find them, without either sucking up or kicking down, has been I think a key ingredient in that success.

One of the most endearing qualities of Ian Chubb to me, and I know to a great many of you here, is that he is such a quintessential embodiment of that great egalitarian tradition. There’s testimony to that in the extraordinary respect and affection he has won from generations of students in this place, of which I’ve become acutely aware since I’ve been Chancellor; and in the extraordinary admiration he enjoys among the administrative, technical and general support staff, who are the key to so much of the Univesity’s effective functioning, and which has been reflected in its industrial relations record under his tenure, second to none among Australian universities, and I suspect in any other organization in the country of similar size and complexity.

There is testimony too, and this is always a terrific litmus test, in the extraordinary affection and fierce loyalty he generates from the staff who work in his office and its immediate proximity. I first became aware of the Chubb phenomenon back in the days when he was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Monash, when my wife Merran - who very much regrets not being able to be here this evening - told me she’d never had a more fantastic boss than this bloke, and it’s something she happily repeats to this day.

So this is not a man who kicks down. And when it comes to his academic and intellectual peers, I think I can say with some confidence that he treats them with all the respect and affection that their arguments – and character – deserve. And I know I can say with some confidence, when it comes to those of notionally higher rank, he certainly doesn’t suck up! I say ‘notionally’ because I don’t think it’s in Chubby’s genes to acknowledge that, even in the most formal hierarchical scheme of things, anyone is his superior, let alone the Chancellor and the University Council. He takes the perfectly defensible view that if we don’t know our place in the scheme of things, we should – even if it hasn’t been dug yet…

But even if this has meant that some conversations between Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor may just occasionally have been of the kind that should only take place between consenting adults in private, away from the ears of small children, I don’t think too many Council members have turned a hair about a certain shortfall in their deference quotient over the years.

And the reason of course is obvious – we know that we’ve had in Ian Chubb an absolutely brilliant and inspiring leader of this great university, who has delivered an unbelievable amount during his tenure here, and whose legacy will absolutely enduring. When the next history of the ANU is written we know that Ian Chubb is going to be right up there with the legends, and that future generations will talk about the three Cs – Coombs, Crawford and Chubb – who, more than anyone else, have made this great national institution what it is and what it aspires to be.

Let me count the ways in which Ian Chubb’s leadership has been so special. He has consolidated our position as Australia’s No 1 university, and unequivocally our top research university, as confirmed by the recent ERA results (notwithstanding some breathtakingly cheeky claims from a certain competitor to our south).

He has created an unparalleled environment for teaching and learning, by restructuring the whole university to better harness and integrate our traditional research grunt into undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, and creating a residential environment on the campus which is second to none among Australia’s major universities.

He has managed that incredibly complex and sensitive change process, in an environment not exactly light on for highly charged personalities, in a way that has maintained an extraordinary degree of harmony, stability and productivity. Some of this has certainly been a triumph of substance over form, producing organization charts that have been known to make grown men weep (not to mention orderly minded Chancellors) - but throughout the governing philosophy has been, not unreasonably, that of Deng Xiao Peng’s cat. As Mao’s successor once famously said, you will remember, of the feline in question: “it doesn’t matter whether it’s black or white, it’s whether it catches the mouse”.

And he has led the University through an unprecedented rebuilding period, transforming ANU’s physical face to at least as great an extent as its organizational face, and doing so primarily through winning an incredible degree of capital commitment for our national institution-building from the Commonwealth Government, as well as maintaining and extending, in a fiercely competitive environment, the government’s research funding contribution. As Michael Delaney said to Council last year, putting together these parts of Ian Chubb’s achievement as Vice-Chancellor into words better than anyone else, he has over the course of a decade “re-energised, re-philosophised, recapitalized and rebuilt” the whole university.

I think most of us who have been through the stress of trying to wring out achievements on anything like that scale – and on the scale of a few more I’ll come to in a moment – know that you just can’t maintain the physical, intellectual and emotional energy that it takes without an incredibly supportive home environment.

And I’d like in that context at this point to pause for a moment to acknowledge and honour – and ask you to applaud – the role that has been played all these years, both in support of Ian and very much as a professional in her own right (as she showed us with her co-editing of that magnificent book on the University’s indigenous art collection), by our co-guest of honour this evening, Claudette Chubb.

Now back to Ian himself, since I wouldn’t like him to think I have run out of his leadership achievements after just four headings. Beyond all that he has achieved internally, he has been a fearless voice on higher education policy for the whole sector, not least during those years of real stress with funding and other issues. A lot of other voices that should have been heard were timid and muted, whispering behind closed doors when they should have been bellowing. Ian Chubb faced down those risks and bellowed, and the whole sector owes one hell of a debt of gratitude to him as a result.

He has made a leadership mark not just nationally but internationally, with multiple efforts at new and sophisticated outreach in an academic world that has become ever more borderless and ruthlessly competitive, above all by his initiative in founding in 2005 and leading the International Alliance of Research Universities, which puts us in the appropriately exalted company of Yale, Berkeley, Tokyo, Peking, Singapore, Copenhagen, ETH Zurich, Oxford and Cambridge.

Finally and most recently, with the opening of the Australian National Institute of Public Policy by Kim Carr just last week – bringing together into a vibrant new umbrella institution, including among other elements, the old Crawford School, and the new National Security College and Australian Centre on China in the World – Ian Chubb has laid the foundations back here at ANU for a great new national school of public policy, which owes its inspiration to, and I believe has every chance of ultimately matching the achievements of, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

I have long believed that to be really great, a university has to be great in its research output, great in the quality of education that it delivers, and great in the contribution it makes to the wider community, locally, nationally and internationally. And with the opening of the new institute, about whose branding, positioning and development we are going to have to think and work hard in the years ahead, we are poised I believe to really deliver on that third dimension of greatness.


One of the downsides of that great Australian tradition of egalitarianism with which I began is that Australians, more often than not, simply don’t give brilliant leadership the recognition and respect that it’s due. I don’t think that’s going to happen with Ian Chubb, and one early sign of it was the hugely appropriate recognition last year of him as ACT Australian of the Year.

But I hope very much, as I know you all do, that it won’t be very long before this man, still at the peak of his powers, gets some new public service role to play that will be a match for his talents and energy. Quite apart from anything else, the prospect of Ian wandering around Canberra with an advanced case of Relevance Deprivation Syndrome is something that should fill us all with dread.

It is certainly the case that Ian Chubb has the kind of presence that is not easily ignored or forgotten. If you have ever seen him getting out of his big black car, in his dark suit, and with his wraparound shades, you’ll know what I mean. Indeed if it happened outside one of those Italian restaurants in North Carlton we’ve been reading about recently, I think he’d have every customer in the place diving under the table…

I hope, and suspect that the physical image that we’re about to see, which will be one part of Ian Chubb’s legacy to this University, will be of a rather more conventional, kinder, gentler sort. But proud and pleased as I am to now to unveil this portrait, let my final word be these. We won’t need a painting to remind us of Ian Chubb’s legacy. It’s there in every brick and stone and piece of grass in this place; it’s there in our contribution to national and international intellectual and policy life; it’s there in our national and international reputation; it’s there in the pleasure you can see shining out of the face of every student who walk across the graduation stage in Llewellyn Hall.

And it’s there in the pleasure and pride the staff who work in this place, and we on the University Council who pretend to oversee its affairs, have in knowing that, under Ian Chubb’s leadership, we have been part of a genuinely wonderful institution. For all of that, Ian, from the bottom of our hearts, we recognize you, thank you, and applaud you.