Jubilee Fellow – 2015

robert smith

Emeritus Professor Robert Smith AM

BA (UNE), MA (Northwestern), PhD (ANU)

2015 Reflections

I am just a little embarrassed by my inclusion in the 40+year group to be recognised by the Academy. While I remain pleased at the honour of the Fellowship conferred in 1974, an assessment of my participation in the activities of the Academy in the 41 years since would reveal that it has been infrequent, indeed, peripheral. Part of this was due to the fact that for more than ten of the first twenty years of my membership I lived and worked in Canada, and for three of the next ten I was in the USA. Interspersed in the latter ten years were two appointments as a Vice-Chancellor and one as a senior Commonwealth Government statutory office holder. For much of the last ten years (and especially the last five), my family situation has left very little time (and energy) for sustained intellectual pursuits.

I recall a lively correspondence with Peg Job of the Academy staff in the mid-1990s when she was editing a series of contributions from Fellows about their work and workplaces. At the time I was Executive Director and President of the Australian Education Office in Washington DC, which was housed in the Australian Embassy. (The AEO, a marketing and promotion office for Australian education and training, was then supported by the Universities and the Commonwealth Government.) This role afforded many opportunities for interactions with American and Canadian colleges and universities, as well as with the many higher education related organisations and associations clustered nearby on Dupont Circle. The outlook from the window of my office (rather, cubicle!), was the then-disused Philippines Embassy, said by many a wag to contain a large cache of women’s shoes! (My contribution to the item Peg edited now languishes in limbo on the hard drive of my laptop in an outdated software format!)

In the early 1970s my research focussed on market-place exchange systems in developing countries (especially West Africa), an interest that I developed during a mid-1960s appointment at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. The role of periodic (episodic) markets in the functioning of internal trading systems became a central theme of this work. I extended it to Papua New Guinea during my three years at Monash University in the early 1970s. The thrust of my research almost always was empirical with data gathering and hypothesis testing – a social science methodology that has been challenged vigorously. I published several review articles relating to my research interest at the time, but my one attempt at theory articulation was, in retrospect, simplistic and naïve.*

Soon after my election in 1974 I returned to North America, to The University of British Columbia, where my career started moving in the direction of university leadership and management. It was at UBC that I developed a lasting interest in university governance. When I left the paid workforce (my definition of ‘retirement’!) in 1997, I was able to focus more directly on governance. Appointments to two university Councils in the period 1998 to 2012 (to one as Deputy Chancellor [1998-2002], to the other as Chancellor [2005-2012]) and a substantial amount of project work augmented the governance experience I had accumulated during three appointments as Vice-Chancellor (during each one of which I was an ex officio member of the Council/Senate/Board of Governors).

While judgements about the worth of one’s contributions are best made by others, I am most proud of my work on university governance (praxis, not research and publication). I take some small pleasure from my role in the establishment of the National Conference on University Governance. This biennial professional development conference for those involved in university governance occurs under the auspices of the Universities Chancellors’ Council (the National Body of University Chancellors).

*I say a little bit more about this in my “Reflections on a Peripatetic Career” (pp. 163-179 in Leslie J King, editor, North American Explorations: Ten Memoirs of Geographers From Down Under [Trafford Publishing, 2007]).