Who’s sitting on USyd’s Senate?

Functionally and compositionally, the Senate appears to be more akin to a board of directors at an increasingly corporatised institution.

Art by Huw Bradshaw.

In the wake of consecutive attacks to learning and teaching conditions at the University of Sydney, much of activists’ ire has been thrown at the elusive figure of ‘university management’. But who exactly are they referring to?

The answer, in part, is the University’s Senate. Governed by the University of Sydney Act 1989 (NSW), the Senate oversees all the University’s major decisions, including staff appointments and welfare, student welfare and discipline, financial matters and the physical and academic development. It is comprised of fifteen Senate Fellows: three official members, seven external members appointed by either the NSW Education Minister or Senate, and five elected members from the University’s staff and student body.

So, who are they?

Belinda Hutchinson, Chancellor (2013 – 2025)

At the top of this heinous hierarchy is Belinda “bossgirl” Hutchinson, who is currently in her third term as Chancellor. Although many have been quick to point out that Hutchinson’s position is merely symbolic, the Chancellor plays an important role in reflecting the modern university – one that prioritises administrative efficiency and corporatisation over high quality education and public service. Last year, Honi reported extensively on Hutchinson’s dubious resume, which notably includes her role as Chairman of Thales Australia, owned by French global weapons manufacturer Thales Group. Despite being the University’s Chancellor, she has no academic credentials beyond her Bachelor of Economics, although she’s previously and currently holds multiple directorships within the private sector – QBE Insurance Group, Telstra, Coles Myer, Energy Australia, TAB, to name a few.

Hutchinson is an ex officio member of all six Senate committees, and chairs Senate meetings, which occur seven times a year.

Richard Freudenstein, Deputy Chancellor (2017 – 2025)

Hutchinson’s second-in-command in the Senate isn’t our beloved VC, but Minister-appointed external Fellow, Richard Freudenstein. He got his start in leadership with CEO roles in Murdoch-owned media giants The Australian, Foxtel Group and News Digital Media. He also has extensive experience leading companies who (allegedly) underpay their staff; currently, he is a non-executive director for Coles Group Ltd and REA Group. It’s no wonder he’s a perfect fit as Deputy Chancellor of a university also embroiled in its own wage theft allegations! However, the general public knows him best for the shitstorm following former Test captain Tim Paine’s resignation last year. Freudenstein, who was then-Cricket Australia’s Chair, fumbled the ball by claiming that his administration would have dealt with Paine’s allegations differently and swiftly, despite the fact that he had known about them for years after becoming Chair.

Freudenstein is an ex officio member of all six Senate committees and chairs both the Nominations and Honorary Awards Committee.

Professor Mark Scott, Vice-Chancellor and President (2021 – present)

‘Professor’ Mark Scott, who was handed that title after being appointed Vice-Chancellor and not through any academic training, joined the University last year. At the time of his appointment, he touted his “ability to lead large public-facing organisations through change, and to be stronger and more robust on the other side”. This is certainly true, if we define ‘change’ as unforeseen budget cuts like those the ABC faced from 2014 onwards whilst Scott was managing director, and ‘stronger and more robust’ as administrative efficiency at the expense of staff jobs. It’s no wonder that his appointment was met with such furore, especially since he arrived in the context of increasing education cuts and trends of neoliberalisation across universities, under the guise of COVID-induced austerity.

Scott is an ex officio member of all six Senate committees.

Dr Lisa McIntyre, Pro-Chancellor (2021 – 2023)

Dr Lisa McIntyre is the other Minister-appointed external Fellow and one of the few high ranking Fellows with a research background (although much of her experience involves non-executive director or chairman roles in private organisations). Her bio states that she has “a particular interest in biotechnology, medical and health services research”, which is reflected in the companies and organisations she is part of. She is presently a non-executive director of Nanosonics, an ASX-listed company that manufactures ultrasound probe disinfectors; Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, which creates products and systems for use in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea; and the not-for-profit health fund HCF Group.

Dr McIntyre sits on two committees.

Jason Yat-sen Li, Pro-Chancellor (2021 – 2023)

If Jason Yat-sen Li’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was recently elected as the NSW Member for Strathfield under Labor’s banner in the February by-elections. Li has been outspoken against the government’s escalating tensions with China. Somewhat controversially, he suggested that Australia invest in China’s Belt Road Initiative in 2019, an initiative found to be at risk of overusing natural resources and disrupting ecosystems. Prior to politics, Li was a leader in the business sector, which is likely why he was appointed as an external Fellow. He founded and was a managing director for Yatsen Associates, a corporate advisory and management consulting firm focused on the Asian market. Presently, he is the chairman of investment company Vantage Asia Holdings, and an advisory board member for UniMelb’s Asialink.

Li sits on two committees, and chairs the Risk and Audit Committee.

Kate McClymont, Pro-Chancellor (2019 – 2023)

For the MECO girlies and other media-attuned readers, Kate McClymont should be a familiar name. A seven-time winner of the Walkley Award, McClymont is one of Australia’s best known and most esteemed investigative journalists. One of her most notable and hard-hitting investigations was her investigation on former Labor power-broker Eddie Obeid. Her reporting resulted in numerous ICAC investigations into Obeid’s conduct and his eventual sentence to five years imprisonment in 2016. With the issue of a federal ICAC shaping up to be an election issue, she has also spoken in favour of a commission modelled after NSW’s ICAC. From 2015 to 2017, she was chairman of the Walkley advisory board.

McClymont sits on two committees.

Emeritus Professor Alan Pettigrew, Pro-Chancellor (2019 – 2023)

Professor Alan Pettigrew is a Senate-appointed external Fellows and is another one of the few high ranking members with an academic (as opposed to a corporate) background. As well as being a Senate Fellow, he is an external councillor of HCF Australia and an external expert for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. He was previously a council member for the Brisbane-based QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, as well as on the board of directors for the not-for-profit charity Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute. From 2006 to 2009, he was the Vice-Chancellor and CEO for the University of England.

Professor Pettigrew sits on three committees and chairs the People and Culture Committee.

Professor Jane Hanrahan, Chair of Academic Board (2022 -2023)

Recently elected as the Chair of Academic Board in January, Professor Jane Hanrahan is the third of the Senate’s three official members. She was the Deputy Chair of the Academic Board until 2021, and has also chaired the Undergraduate Studies, Admissions, and Academic Standards and Policies sub-committees. In her teaching roles, she is an academic in the Sydney Pharmacy School at the Faculty of Medicine and Health. She is also on the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Advisory Committee on Prescription Medicines (ACPM) and Pharmaceutical Sub-committee (PSC). She is also an NTEU member.

Professor Hanrahan sits on three committees.

Karen Moses (2017 – 2023)

“We are committed to embedding sustainability in every aspect of University life,” Mark Scott once said. However, it’s hard to believe the sincerity of this commitment when people like Karen Moses sit on the University’s highest governing authority. A search through Moses’ LinkedIn reveals a long list of roles at some of the world’s worst environmental offenders.

She is currently a non-executive board member at Snowy Hydro, which is responsible for the Kurri Kurri gas plant which is expected to produce 500,299 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions annually, and a non-executive director at Orica, the explosives company behind a number of chemical leaks in Port Botany and Kooragang Island. She’s also a non-executive director at construction materials company Boral, which faced a class action lawsuit in 2020 after misreported earnings figures brought losses to shareholders. Previously, she was also an executive director for electricity and natural gas retailers Origin Energy and its then-subsidiary, Contact Energy, the former of which operates Australia’s largest coal-fired station in Lake Macquarie. Her LinkedIn also shows that she started her career in BP (the oil company that killed multiple people and continues to impact wildlife today) and the climate-denying oil and gas corporation Exxon.

Moses sits on two committees and chairs the Finance Committee.

Peter Scott (2017 – 2023)

A serial directorship-holder, Peter Scott is an external Fellows who seems to have spent most of his career in boardrooms. He’s a non-executive director at Transurban Group, the toll operator that holds a monopoly on toll roads across multiple states and was found to be overcharging road customers in 2018. The rest of his work experience boasts his leadership and affiliation with elusive, high profile companies. He is currently a director at O’Connell Street Associates, a private networking group that the Australian Financial Review described as “blue blood by definition” and has considerable influence in helping would-be directors gain seats in coveted boardrooms. He is also involved with The CEO Group and The Confidere Group, which are also networking groups for executives and boardroom leaders. Until 2017, he was also the Chairman of financial services company Perpetual Limited, which provides “wealth advice” to its clients as one of its services.

He sits on three committees and chairs the Building and Estates Committee.

Associate Professor Maryanne Large (2019 – 2023)

Professor Maryanne Large was elected in 2019 after running with fellow NTEU members Associate Professor Stephen Clibborn and Dave Burrows. Large is a professor in the Faculty of Science and is the Sydney Branch NTEU Vice President (Academic Staff). She is presently a member of USyd’s Nano Institute. Beyond academia, she is the director of a few small research-related companies; she is the CEO and director of Wirriga Pty Ltd, which is working on a project that will measure air quality across Sydney using sensors. Large also founded the now-defunct company Kiriama Pty Ltd, which supplied speciality polymer optical fibres and capillaries. She also lists Draco Analytics Pty Ltd as a company where she is a director, although there is no public record about what Draco Analytics actually is.

Professor Large sits on one committee.

Professor Renae Ryan (2021 – 2023)

Professor Renae Ryan is the other elected academic staff Fellow. One of the newest members of the Senate (along with the Vice-Chancellor), she is a Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology in the Faculty of Medicine and Health. In addition to her academic research, Ryan has also worked to improve gender equity in her field. She is currently the academic director of the Science in Australia Gender Equity Program at the University and was previously the chair at the Sydney Medical School Gender Equity Committee. She is an ex officio council member of the Women’s College. It is unclear whether she is an NTEU member like her predecessor. 

Professor Ryan sits on two committees.

Dave Burrows (2019 – 2023)

Dave Burrows is the third elected staff Fellow representing non-academic staff. Burrows works on USyd’s ICT help desk and is a workplace delegate with the NTEU. Outside of his work at the University, he is involved in a number of advocacy roles; he is a member of the Lived Experience Advisory Panel at the not-for-profit mental health facility Black Dog Institute, and a White Ribbon Ambassador.

Burrows sits on one committee.

Lachlan Finch and Gabi Stricker-Phelps (2020 – 2022)

In case you’ve forgotten the controversial capers of our student Fellows, allow me to remind you. Supported by the ModLibs, Finch and Stricker-Phelps ran an unusual ticket-style campaign in 2020 for their respective positions of postgraduate and undergraduate Fellows. Both also stepped into their Senate roles immediately after finishing their previous terms with the USU and the SRC. 

Under Finch’s auspices as the 2020 USU Vice President, the organisation cut staff pay by 40 per cent without any staff consultation. Meanwhile, Stricker-Phelps’ term as the 2019 SRC Women’s Officer was marked with controversy; her election was the first time in over 20 years that the collective’s autonomy was breached. Stricker-Phelps is also a vocal Zionist; she is a member of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students and Jewish Board of Deputies, both of which are pro-Israel organisations. Recently, she spoke against a motion supporting the Sydney Festival boycotts in the SRC’s February meeting… more than an hour after the SRC had passed the motion.

Finch and Stricker-Phelps sit on one committee each. Their positions will be vacated in Senate elections later this year.

Why should students care?

Of the fifteen Fellows sitting on the Senate, two thirds are non-elected. The Fellows who are elected hold the least power, sitting on the least number of committees and constitutionally barred from chairing any committees. Of the Senate’s ten non-elected members, the majority come from corporate (as opposed to academic) backgrounds.

Things weren’t always like this. The Senate’s current composition is the result of sweeping reforms in 2015, which saw the number of Fellows reduced from 22 to 15. All seven positions that were axed under the changes were elected roles, including two staff and five alumni roles. At the time of the changes, the then-second year Chancellor called the size of the Senate a “problem”, as the debates encouraged by more participants decreased efficiency of meetings.

The term ‘senate’ implies some level of democracy, a model of governance comprised of elected representatives and robust debate in service of the public good. But the University of Sydney’s Senate seems to stand in direct opposition to its name. Functionally and compositionally, the Senate appears to be more akin to a board of directors at an increasingly corporatised institution.