Jubilee Fellow – 2015

leon mann

Professor Leon Mann

MA, DipSocSt (Melbourne), PhD (Yale), FAPsS, Hon Fellow and Life Governor (Hebrew University), Hon Dsc (Melbourne)

2015 Reflections

When I was elected to Fellowship in 1975 the Academy numbered 141 members. I was one of 12 new Fellows – all males – bringing the Academy to 153.  At the time there were only two women – Enid Campbell, Law and Jean Martin, Sociology.

My first impression as a fresher at the November 1975 meetings was of a highbrow, tight knit, exclusive Old Boys club dominated by ANU and Canberra. Four of the 12 newly elected Fellows in 1975 hailed from ANU and a fifth from the Department of Treasury. Most of the Executive Committee was ANU affiliated or Canberra based. At the November 1975 meeting ANU economist Fred Gruen was elected ASSA President and ANU philosopher Eugene Kamenka presented the annual lecture. Incidentally, both Gruen and Kamenka were refugees from Europe.

The 1975 meetings were well attended. I was impressed by the record of Academy research and publications on major topics such as Aborigines in Australian Society, Refugees and Immigration, Taxation in Australia, and Environmental pollution. The Academy had spirit and energy.

While at Flinders University I became involved in ASSA in a small way, encouraged by my friends Peter Glow, convener of the South Australian Branch, and Norman Feather then chair of the Panel D committee.

When I returned to Melbourne in 1991 President Peter Sheehan (1990-1993) talked me into becoming Victorian Branch convener–an unenviable task. I learned much from attending Executive during Peter Sheehan’s, Paul Bourke’s and Fay Gale’s Presidencies. In November 2000 I was elected President and, like my predecessors, resolved to invest time and energy.

A first decision in 2001 was to appoint a new Executive Director – John Beaton, a Californian passionate about Canberra, Cricket and woodworking. As a first year President in 2001 I was plunged into national innovation policy affairs. The Howard Government had announced the Backing Australia’s Ability policy to back winners in scientific and technological innovation, and that setting national research priorities would help shape and support the national innovation effort. The initiative was led by Education, Science and Training Minister Brendan Nelson, the Chief Scientist Robin Batterham, PMSEIC, and the Science and Engineering Academies. It was determined that national priority setting would be done in two steps – first science and technology in 2002, and then social sciences and humanities in 2003, a bewildering display of insular thinking.

I was invited with Humanities Academy President Malcolm Gillies to sit on the National Research Priorities Consultative Panel and Expert Advisory Committee 2002-2003 as the idea emerged that the social sciences and humanities might be relevant to national research priorities in areas such as health, environment, security, energy conservation, and even understanding innovation itself. Beginning in 2001, I became a noisy, persistent advocate of the essential role and contribution of the social sciences in the national innovation system.

At the time I was President the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers –just as now—challenged the national conscience. The first issue of Dialogue 1/2002 following the bruising November 2001 federal election examined the topic “Refugees-Where to Now”. All contributors called for more humane, fairer treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Zelman Cowen revisited the theme in Dialogue 2/2003, “Where to? Questions for Australians”, observing, “There is no doubt that the world is watching how we respond, and future generations will judge us”. I regret that ASSA did not issue a public statement at the time about the mental health and human rights issues involved in holding refugees for months in Immigration Detention Centers.

A highpoint of my Presidency was establishment of the ASSA Summer School for Postgraduate Indigenous students.  The necessity to develop research leadership in early career Indigenous scholars was obvious. Election of Marcia Langton, my colleague at Melbourne, to Fellowship in 2001 provided the opportunity to become co-founders of the annual ASSA Summer School. The School began in 2002 with support from Minister Brendan Nelson, the Colonial Foundation (thank you Bob Officer and Ninian Stephen), and a fund-raising dinner at Raheen. By 2010 the Academy’s Summer School had transformed into University of Melbourne Summer and Winter Schools. The Schools have aided over 200 Indigenous alumni, many in research leadership and advisory roles.

A great satisfaction was to work with Janet Chan on Academy projects around Creativity and innovation in the Social Sciences. The collaboration began with a 2007 ARC Learned Academy project ‘Creativity and Innovation: Social Science Perspectives and Policy Implications’, then the 2008 annual Symposium “Fostering Creativity and Innovation” with contributions by Fellows from all four Academies. The final activity was the book Creativity and innovation in the social sciences (Routledge 2011), with chapters by Australian social scientists. The progression from research project, to symposium, to edited book and Academy book launch, helped refine our ideas and achieve impact.

How ASSA has grown and changed! From around 150 Fellows in 1975, 1 percent women, to over 500 Fellows in 2015, approximately 30 per cent women. As the Academy grows the challenge will be to engage the Fellowship in its activities and ensure that ideas and achievements are communicated and shared. In this regard, a fond word about Dialogue, the Academy’s Journal (1980-2012) established during Keith Hancock’s Presidency as a vehicle for bringing news and views to Fellows. Edited by Peg Job, Dialogue presented informative news and reports and published scholarly articles on significant topics.

Throughout my career I have benefited from the mentoring and advice of supervisors and colleagues. I am grateful to Irving Janis, Stanley Milgram, Ronald Taft, Norman Feather, Fay Gale, and Jacqueline Goodnow.

I have cherished my time in the Academy. It has been generous, provided enduring friendships, a chance to work with dedicated colleagues, a deeper understanding of perspectives across the social sciences, and to be of service to the social sciences and the nation.

I was greatly honoured by my election to ASSA Fellowship in 1975 and now greatly honoured in becoming Jubilee Fellow in 2015.