Two of Australia’s most outstanding thinkers, writers and public commentators – political and social scientist Robert Manne and biochemist and science journalist Elizabeth Finkel – have been made Vice-Chancellor’s Fellows at La Trobe University.
Vice-Chancellor John Dewar announced the part-time appointments in April. He said Dr Finkel’s role would further enhance La Trobe’s standing as a leading research University while Professor Manne will continue to provide ‘sharp and discerning commentary’ through the University’s Ideas & Society program, which he founded, extending it to include a series of discussions in Canberra.
Professor Dewar said it was crucial in the interest of public debate in Australia that Professor Manne, who retired this year (see story bottom of page), continued to lead discussions relating to political, social and climate change.
He will also advise the Vice-Chancellor on political and social issues and University strategy, while Dr Finkel will provide advice to help implement La Trobe’s new Research Focus Areas (RFAs) part of its ‘Future Ready’ strategy.
Dr Finkel will also develop a science and technology stream of the popular Ideas & Society Program as well as a book on food security for which she will draw on the expertise of academic collaborators at the University.
As one of the nation’s leading research universities (based on the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) 2012 report), La Trobe has achieved top ranking for its research in microbiology, biochemistry, cell biology and veterinary science.
To support this effort, the University opened its $94 million La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences (LIMS) in February this year. The $288 million AgrioBio, Centre for AgriBiosciences, a joint Venture with Victoria’s Department of Primary Industry, was opened in April.
Professor Dewar said ‘Dr Finkel brings to her new position an extraordinary level of practical experience as a research scientist and award-winning journalist.
‘It is through this experience that Dr Finkel will help ensure that La Trobe continues to drive research that helps solve global problems and improves the welfare of human societies.’
Dr Finkel has spent the last 20 years as a science writer, including correspondent for the American magazine Science and an associate editor, now editor in chief, of the popular science magazine Cosmos that she co-founded.
Tribute to Professor Manne
Professor Dewar said ‘Professor Manne not only has a distinguished career as a university researcher and teacher spanning some forty years, but has led some of the most heated historical and political controversies of our time.’
He has published a large number of political essays and written or edited twenty books on a wide variety of topics for which he has won various awards.
‘La Trobe has a mission to explore, highlight and lead the changes necessary for a just and prosperous society, and Professor Manne has been central to this mission since he joined the University in 1975,’ Professor Dewar said.
The La Trobe Ideas & Society Program, convened by Professor Manne, is a series of web-broadcast debates and public lectures that bring students, staff and the public together with leading thinkers and key public figures to consider the critical questions of our time, enliven intellectual life and deepen understanding.
Honour for a man who thinks for himself
Some of Australia’s most respected thinkers, writers and speakers converged on La Trobe’s Melbourne Campus earlier this year for a conference honouring Professor Robert Manne.
Conference organiser Dr Glenda Tavan said the event, titled Thinking for Yourself, marked the retirement of Professor Manne. It brought together many eminent and well-known public thinkers.
She said these were ‘people Robert respected personally and professionally, who think independently and are not afraid to challenge the status quo’.
Comprising a mix of young and older people, the 30 speakers included Aboriginal leaders Professor Mick Dodson AM and his brother Pat Dodson, philosopher Professor Raimond Gaita, broadcaster Ramona Koval, former WA Premier Dr Carmen Lawrence, Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar, defence strategist Professor Hugh White, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, multiculturalist Professor Ghassan Hage and The Australia Institute founder Professor Clive Hamilton.
Former students also took part
Former students of Professor Manne’s who took part in the farewell conference were Dr David Corlett, presenter of the SBS TV series Go back to Where You Came From and Dorota Sach-Krol.
Part of the conference was also broadcast as an Ideas & Society conversation between Professor Manne and Professor Dodson. The two men discussed the past and future of Indigenous politics, the stolen generations, the Northern Territory intervention and the proposed referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition.
Professor Manne said the conference covered ‘many issues that have been central to my life – twentieth century European history, intellectuals and communism, indigenous politics, asylum seekers, multiculturalism, the university and the challenge of climate change.’
Sponsored by La Trobe University and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr Tavan said colleagues and staff felt the event was a fitting tribute to the work and impact of Professor Manne, both on the life of the University and on Australia’s social and political culture.