By Professor Steve Chapman
The world is in an interesting place just now. The nature of “truth” itself seems to be under threat. Now, more than ever, is the time for Universities to show leadership and to exercise their civilising influence. The Arts need to be at the centre of this. We need recognise the critical role our artists must play and to encourage them as much as we can. This encouragement will require us, in the university sector, to provide the appropriate funding and support and to be creative in the way we do this. The benefits to society that we will see from such support will be immense.
ECU has a healthy and very innovative arts community in the University, growing out of a strong reputation in the visual and performing arts dating back to our teacher education programs prior to becoming a University in 1991. In the early days of our transition, the then School of Contemporary Arts along with the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, WAAPA, made a major contribution to the national debate around arts research and practice. It was fitting therefore that ECU developed a process of acknowledging the arts through the Creative and Performing Arts Index (CPAI) where a proportion of the research block grant income to the University was allocated to non-traditional researchers as a way of financially incentivising creative outputs, and as a way of recognising the value that this made to our institution. This process is still alive in what is now the Aspire system, a small but significant contribution that feeds back into our promotion exercise to enable high achieving creative researchers to gain academic promotion against measures that are relevant to their discipline.
Funding non-traditional research is about recognising difference and encouraging excellence in areas that do not always fit the dominant models of research, but it also demonstrates commitment by the University. This is particularly important, as the arts have always played a leading role in connecting communities to our campuses through a deep and interdependent relationship in cultural activity.
In our new School structure, two of our eight schools focus on the arts, those of the new School of Arts and Humanities and WAAPA, both of which have gained international reputation for their innovative programs. ECU continues to be a proud supporter of the arts and has recently completed a $6m upgrade to the arts facilities at the Mount Lawley campus and has advanced plans for a major multi arts building as a collaborative and multi-skilling facility on its city based campus.
While the University is an avid supporter of the arts, the responsibility for leadership comes from the Executive Deans of the Schools. Devolving responsibility is a matter of trust and respect, a case of empowering colleagues to become leaders and managers who have proven track records as international artists and performers. In this respect both our creative schools are given freedom to lead and manage, a particular approach that has paid dividends in a University that is still forming from the ground up. Being part of a young and growing institution enables the arts to ride a wave of energy that is often constricted in more established institutions.
I recognise that the arts offer a different way of viewing the world, a human perspective that we often overlook especially when the rational and harsh environment of the higher education sector is under such constant pressure. It is easy to think of the arts as dispensable in our increasingly business driven approach to input and output, but to underestimate the longer-term value of the arts would be at our peril.
In a wonderful keynote address at the recent Universities Australia conference, the previous American Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich put into context everything from Trump’s rise to power to the liberation of life after robotics. In his final summing up, he talks positively about the greater goals of our Universities and their responsibilities in preparing graduates for jobs that cannot be replaced by machines. He talks about what it means to be human and what we are good at; resolving conflict, improving ourselves, caring for one another and “creating great art”. Our uncertain future will require creative thinkers to become creative leaders, to ensure that the impending liberation of time is a time well spent.
Professor Steve Chapman CBE. commenced his role as Vice-Chancellor and President of Edith Cowan University (ECU) in April 2015.
Prior to joining ECU, Professor Chapman was Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University from 2009, and Vice-Principal at the University of Edinburgh from 2006. In 2001 he received the Interdisciplinary Award of the Royal Society of Chemistry, for his ground-breaking work at the interface of Chemistry and Biology. Professor Chapman was one of the founders of ScotCHEM, the research "pooling" exercise in Chemistry across Scotland.
Professor Chapman holds the degrees of Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Philosophy from Newcastle University. In 2005 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Edinburgh in 2011. In 2016 Professor Chapman was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to higher education.