The University of Sydney Senate has broken with tradition by appointing a Chancellor with an extensive corporate background.
During the holidays the Senate announced it had voted to install Belinda Hutchinson as the University’s 18th Chancellor. She replaces the outgoing Marie Bashir and is just the third woman elected to the position since its advent in 1851.
Unlike previous Chancellors, Hutchinson comes to the University via the world of business and philanthropy. She serves as chairman of the QBE Insurance board and as a director of AGL Energy, positions she will continue to hold during her term as Chancellor. She has also previously acted as the head of Macquarie Equity Capital Markets and had associations with Telstra, Coles, Tab, and Energy Australia.
Her appointment has raised questions about whether the corporate voice within the Senate has now reached critical mass.
National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Sydney Branch President Michael Thompson said Hutchinson’s appointment showed a prejudice towards business methods over education sector experience.
“We would think a Chancellor would come from the [education] sector, or have some real connection with the sector. The new Chancellor doesn’t appear to have that,” he said.
Corresponding with Honi Soit via email, Hutchinson acknowledged she had, “a lot to learn about the university and higher education and research,” but said she believed her work in the not-for-profit sector with St Vincent’s, the Salvation Army, and Chief Executive Women would help her navigate the transition.
The new Chancellor has been met with a cautious welcome by the major student organisations. SRC president David Pink, USU president Astha Rajvanshi and SUPRA president Angelus Morningstar met with the Chancellor and were impressed by her eagerness to listen to student groups. Despite this, senior sources within these organisations have privately expressed concern about her corporate background.
Hutchinson’s connection to neoliberal think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) has also raised eyebrows. The think-tank lists economists Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard among its influences. Having resigned from the organisation’s board, Hutchinson compared CIS to her other not-for-profit work.
“I have a substantial number of charitable and not-for-profit organisations that I support as a director. I do not see any of these organisations having a conflict with the University,” she wrote.
Those concerned by the increasingly corporate environment of the University Senate can hardly take comfort in the words of Hutchinson’s advocates. Alec Brennan, a fellow of the Senate, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the new Chancellor’s business experience would be useful in running the “billion-and-a-half dollar business”. By this, he meant the University of Sydney.