The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence is one of 35 Australians to have been appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia this year.
Since Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull abolished Knights and Dames in 2015, the Companion is the highest honour available to any Australian civilian.
Spence received the award for “Eminent service to leadership of the tertiary education sector, to the advancement of equitable access to educational opportunities, to developing strategic programs focused on multidisciplinary research and to the Anglican Church of Australia.”
The awards are given out on January 26 each year. Past recipients include household names like Donald Bradman and Nicole Kidman as well as infamous individuals such as Rupert Murdoch and George Pell.
Nominations are confidential and, since a court ruling in 2012, the Order of Australia Council has been allowed to keep the selection process entirely opaque. It is therefore impossible to know which of Spence’s particular actions curried favour with the award committee, although his stance against tertiary education funding cuts and the university’s “Inspired” fundraising campaign both received significant media attention.
Spence’s decoration is sure to draw the ire of numerous groups unimpressed with his managerial approach. He has been consistently criticised by students and staff for failing to do enough to combat sexual violence on campus, unnecessarily cutting teaching jobs, spearheading a university degree restructure, supporting the closure of the Sydney College of the Arts, and suggesting that increasing tuition fees should be an option “kept on the table”.
For a more in depth look at the Vice-Chancellor, see Max Chalmer’s 2014 profile.