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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Steve Evans

ANU head set to leave post in shock announcement

Brian Schmidt

The vice-chancellor of the Australian National University has announced he is leaving the post. He said he would return to being "a professor at this great university".

"I am announcing today that this year will be my last as Vice-Chancellor, and I have notified the Chancellor and the council of my intention to step down at the end of December," Professor Brian Schmidt said in the ANU's State of the University address.

"After eight years, I will be ready to get back to my research and teaching, and a somewhat more balanced life.

"My love for ANU is undimmed. My zest to see it improved hasn't changed. And I always said that when I stepped down as Vice-Chancellor I wanted to hand on a university I would be happy to continue to work in."

ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt announces he will step down in the role whilst speaking at LLewellyn Hall. Picture by James Croucher

The vice-chancellor is, in effect, the leader of the university. Professor Schmidt took over the role when he was already an astrophysicist with a global reputation as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011. He became the ANU's 12th vice-chancellor.

His prize-winning discovery was that the universe was expanding at an accelerating rate. "This discovery completely changed our understanding of the universe," the Australian Academy of Science said.

Brian Schmidt was born in the United States and migrated to Australia as an adult with an established scientific reputation of the highest order.

"Brian Schmidt grew up in Missoula, Montana, where his father worked as a fisheries biologist," his biography on the Nobel Prize website says.

"His family later relocated to Anchorage, Alaska. Schmidt received a PhD from Harvard University in 1993 and, moved to Australia the following year, where he was involved in building the High-Z Supernova Search Team, as a part of which he conducted his Nobel Prize-awarded work."

He has clearly come to love the ANU. In the recent 20th anniversary of the 2003 bushfires, he was near to tears as he related how the fire had destroyed the Mount Stromlo observatory where he worked when he first came to Canberra.

At the ANU, he is widely thought to have changed the culture.

The university has, for example, tried to broaden the entry criteria from ATAR results. It's made early offers to promising students.

"I want people to think about not just ATAR; I want them to think about what they want to do, where they want to live," he told the The Australian Financial Review.

"It is a measure, but it's not the only measure," he said. "If I could have 99.90 ATARs as my entire population? Nope, I really don't want that."

In his speech, he reflected on his time at the top: "How much younger I looked when I started this job. How much my threshold for pain has changed!

"Back in early 2016, we didn't know it then - but ahead of us lay the rise of populism, Brexit and Trump.

"Closer to home, our campus would suffer hundreds of millions of dollars of damage from floods, smoke and hail; a once-in-a-century global pandemic that would change the world; and now a war in Europe exacerbates a global cost-of-living crisis.

"But looking back, I was also struck that those principles of responsibility, service and integrity have been at the heart of everything we have tried to do in response to these turbulent times: always putting our community first at work; helping Australia meet the challenges we face as a nation; and, cherishing our values. It is in those values, of academic freedom, respect, truth-seeking, transparency, accountability, fairness and justice, that our integrity exists.

"And as we emerge from the turbulence - and I do hope that we have a long stretch of clear air - it is those principles, our values, and our strategy that guide where we want to go as a university."

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