After almost eight years in the top job, Australian National University (ANU) Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt has announced he’s stepping down.
At his State of the University address this morning (2 February), Professor Schmidt said his “integrity” had let him know the end of his time in the top job had arrived.
“[This] is both the most rewarding and the hardest job I have ever undertaken,” he said.
“It is a job that requires unbridled enthusiasm and a continual look to the future, and it is a job therefore that can sit with an individual for a limited amount of time.
“That is why I am announcing today that this year will be my last as Vice-Chancellor.”
Prof Schmidt will finish up in the position at the end of this year.
He said he was incredibly proud to have led the university community, meeting and learning from staff and students, but that he was also realistic about “a VC’s shelf-life”.
“Having arrived as an agent of change, for the University’s sake I want to leave before I become the status quo,” Prof Schmidt said.
“Personally, after eight years, I will be ready to get back to my research and teaching, and a somewhat more balanced life.”
Prof Schmidt was appointed the 12th Vice-Chancellor in January 2016, after winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.
He outlined the priorities he wanted everyone to focus on in the next 12 months at the ANU in his address, including making the campus a “truly outstanding culture” to work and study in, engaging with the community, improving services and becoming a partner with the Australian Government with major reforms on the way.
Personally he said he would be working to persuade the Federal Government to invest further in the work being done at the ANU, and for the students and researchers to be seen as “an opportunity rather than an expense”.
He also acknowledged the past three years of “turbulence” and his hopes the university and the world would now experience a “long stretch of clear air”.
Looking back at his past State of the University addresses, he joked about how much younger he looked when he started in the position.
“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,” Prof Schmidt said.
“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.”
As Prof Schmidt prepares to finish his year in the posting, and to sit among the staff and students at the next State of the University address in 2024, he finished with these words:
“While it has been a great privilege and a huge responsibility to be the 12th Vice-Chancellor of ANU, there is no greater privilege or larger responsibility than simply being a member of this extraordinary university,” he said.
“I am profoundly grateful for what you have achieved over these past seven years and for giving me the opportunity to be your Vice-Chancellor.
“I only hope I have served you well.”