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Stephen Garton confirmed as acting Vice-Chancellor

Garton is set to temporarily replace outgoing VC Michael Spence from the end of this year.

Professor Stephen Garton will become the acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney following Michael Spence’s departure from the position. 

According to a spokesperson from the University, Garton will take on the role on the 15th of December, “while the recruitment for a suitable replacement continues.”

“We’re confident that with the Chancellor, Stephen and the rest of our Senior Executive Team, the institution will continue to be led by people who are trusted by our community and wholly experienced, until our new Vice-Chancellor is able to join us.”

Garton has held various positions throughout his time at the University, having become a Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor last year after being appointed as Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2009. Since then, he has been involved with numerous controversies related to the University’s staff cuts and unit closures.

Garton has been most noteworthy in recent years for his involvement in the planned closure of the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), as well as the decision to have incorporated within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and relocated to the Camperdown campus. He often served as a mouthpiece for the University’s plans regarding the SCA and the reasoning behind them, though his oft-used claim that the campus closure was due to it being “financially unsustainable” was found to have been contradicted by Spence. 

In 2012, Garton appeared on Lateline to defend the culling of over 100 staff members from the University, citing a requirement that academics had to have contributed to four or more publications over a three year period to maintain their employment at USyd. Said requirement was, according to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), not communicated to staff prior to the announcement of the cuts.

Garton was later involved in the firing of controversial academic Tim Anderson, after chairing an investigation into his use of an allegedly anti-semitic image in a presentation in 2018. Anderson accused Garton’s decision as “reactionary politics dressed up as ethics”, and, prior to his initial suspension, claimed he had made “clumsy, unprincipled attempts to act as political censor”. Anderson has appealed the decision.

In the same year, Garton defended the University’s partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation against a pushback from many staff members. In an open letter, he stated that “It has never been university policy to reject funding from a donor simply on the basis that we did not like the politics of the people on the board of the funding body.”

The University states that the search for a new, more permanent Vice-Chancellor is “progressing well”, and an update will hopefully be provided on the matter by the end of the year.

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to add information provided by the University’s statement.