The house that Howard hated
It is a fixture of university lore that during all his 11 years as Prime Minister, John Howard never once set foot on the campus of ANU, just a few kilometers down the road from The Lodge in Canberra.
Certainly he never visited what is now Australia’s leading university anytime after 2001 when Ian Chubb became vice-chancellor, a job the 67-year-old relinquished on Friday.
Chubb, a rough-hewn figure credited with the most astute brain in higher education management, turned ANU into a major research hub where PhDs were earned in greater numbers than elsewhere and youngsters came from all around Australia, and the globe, to study.
He made his university a world-ranking place of learning, and the premiere university in Australia ahead of Melbourne and the University of Queensland, according to ratings released this month.
He could do many things, but he couldn’t get the Liberal Prime Minister of Australia to cross that boundary line on Canberra’s Acton Peninsular and enter his fortress of learning.
One reason was the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University.
It might have produced two Nobel Prize winners and a stack of distinguished researchers, but JWH’s view was that ANU should have named the school after its co-founder Howard Florey rather than the Labor Prime Minister.
He never went through its doors.
The Howard government, taking the Prime Minister’s lead, didn’t like universities in general because they produced protesters and tended never to vote conservative. But there was a special dislike for ANU under Ian Chubb.
In 2003 he successfully resisted Government attempts to link funding of universities to an insistence that all staff be put on Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).
Chubb was the only vice-chancellor who held out, and he won thanks to a collaboration with a man with an equal measure of stubbornness, Labor senator Shayne Murphy, a former shearer who didn’t finish high school.
Murphy said at the time: ``We don’t say to the doctors, we’re going to tip in this extra $2.4 billion into Medicare and by the way, we want you to put your staff on AWAs.’‘
It was a matter of principle for Chubb, but it meant he was not on the list of friendlies held by John Howard or then Education Minister Brendan Nelson.
That made it harder for Chubb to get the research funding he needed, and reinforced his view that the Howard government saw universities merely as a Budget nuisance.
The departing vice-chancellor leaves behind nothing bearing his name, although a large freight container parked behind the ANU bar apparently is called the Chubb Room by students.
He likes talking to his students. Half the restaurants in Canberra seemed to be staffed by ANU undergraduates.They recognise Chubb and chat with him as they serve.
He has been a sympathetic link between them and the multi-billion dollar business of education that might be difficult to replace.
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