Spence of Sydney’s Farewell Address

With admirable brevity, the Uni Sydney VC took just 4750 words to share thoughts about the state of his university and universities in general as he prepares to depart

Dr Spence included his, “take on the three most important questions facing research-intensive universities,” such as his (his full text is here).

His nominated issues were:

The nature of a university as an institution. “It genuinely is the case that creativity demands space for the researcher and teacher to set the agenda for their work and to follow their intellectual passions, but it is also the case that research and teaching are increasingly activities that require coordination at scale and that an institution must have some capacity to set a course for itself in terms of the work that it will undertake and the outcomes for which it will be responsible.”

Who does the university serve.  “For all that the university should be externally engaged and producing work in both teaching and research that has impact in our community, I would argue that our ultimate loyalty must be to a purpose, to the unrelenting pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful; whether that is knowledge that has immediate application, or knowledge just for its own sake, whether those are visions of the good and the beautiful currently popular, those long abandoned or those still seeking acceptance.”

Is the mission of universities international or domestic?  “We have an overriding duty to serve our community and therefore, for example, to support research into issues of primarily domestic interest, and to maintain the teaching of locally important disciplines even where that teaching is not financially self-sustaining. But in order to serve Australia well, a university such as ours can never be exclusively, or even primarily, domestic in its mission.  The great conversations of our age, the great chains of innovation, cross national boundaries and require the participation of universities, researchers and students, all over the world, both from countries with whom Australia closely shares political and social values, and from those less similar. The university must be a place that takes the best of our learning overseas and brings back insights from all over the world.”