Praise for new Notre Dame VC

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Francis Campbell
Incoming vice chancellor of Notre Dame Australia Francis Campbell at the Sydney campus. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The appointment of the new Vice Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia has been overwhelmingly met with praise.

Two former Australian Ambassadors to the Holy See this week welcomed a former colleague and friend preparing to move from Britain to take over at UNDA.

Professor Francis Campbell served as the first Catholic British ambassador to the Holy See from 2005 to 2011 and as a policy advisor and then private secretary to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1999 to 2003.

Currently serving as vice chancellor at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, a Catholic public university in London, Prof Campbell will become Notre Dame’s fourth vice chancellor from January.

Related article: New vice chancellor for Notre Dame

Former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See Tim Fischer AC spoke warmly of his friend who visited the Sydney campus this week to meet with university staff.

Tim Fischer AC

“He is a man of great energy and focus who will fit into the task at Notre Dame very well,” said Mr Fischer.

“In a sense he’s a very modern-day Brendan Bracken [advisor to Winston Churchill] who, like Bernard, knows the ins and outs of Number 10 Downing Street. But the bonus with Francis is a deep faith and a deep set of connections to Rome.”

Prof Campbell, who plans to divide his time between the Sydney and Fremantle campuses, said he was honoured and excited to be joining the university and attracted to the role by “what Notre Dame wants to do and how it does it”.

“There is the desire to form people to have an impact in wider society in a very wholistic way,” he said.

“I’ve been asked to lead but I’m also asked to listen and to learn because there will be many things that I don’t know and I will rely upon others for their knowledge and good will. All I can do is my best to bring Notre Dame to the next level of its development.”

Francis Campbell
Professor Francis Campbell meets first year law students at UNDA. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Prof Campbell will succeed Professor Celia Hammond who resigned last month after a decade in the role and has replaced former foreign minister Julie Bishop as a candidate for the seat of Curtin in the Federal election.

John McCarthy QC, who served as Australia’s ambassador to the Vatican from 2012-2016 congratulated Prof Campbell on his appointment to UNDA and welcomed him to the Church in Australia.

“He is one of the most distinguished Catholic laymen in the English-speaking world,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“His reputation is very strong in the UK, Rome and in the US and his move into the role should be a significant appointment for Notre Dame Australia. He has certainly given St Mary’s a much higher profile and attracted a significant number of senior people to join the faculty there.”

Notre Dame’s chancellor Chris Ellison said that the university’s directors and trustees were “delighted” to welcome Professor Campbell.

“Professor Campbell has an outstanding reputation as an academic and diplomat, and brings considerable wisdom, leadership and international relationships to his new role at Notre Dame,” he said.

Professor Francis Campbell.
Professor Francis Campbell. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Prof Campbell said that Notre Dame’s reputation among Australian universities is “exemplary” and that he is honoured at the opportunity to become its fourth vice chancellor.

“[It’s] great name nationally and internationally is testament to the way its boards and previous vice chancellors have been careful custodians of that unique heritage and role,” he said.

Professor Campbell’s qualifications include an MA in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania in the US and an MA in European Integration from the Katholieke Universiteit in Belgium.

He has received Honorary Doctorates from five universities worldwide and an Honorary Fellowship from St Edmund’s College at Cambridge University in the UK. Prof Campbell said he believed the blueprint for any university, particularly a Catholic one, is the model articulated by Blessed John Henry Newman.

“I think that universities across the world are struggling with what is to be their focus, and some see themselves exclusively as forming people for work,” he said.

“I think the purpose of a Catholic university in the Newman tradition is to form people for life – work is one of the central features of that but it is a much more wholistic and interdisciplinary offering.

“It seeks to bring an impact to individuals who are then formed to make up civil society, to engage and participate.

“For me, Blessed Newman’s idea of a university is the starting point for conversation, it requires constant attention and requires any Catholic university leadership to examine whether or not you are remaining faithful to the spirit of that,” he said.

Meanwhile, the role of a Catholic university means being part of a global community “joined through a grammar of education that focusses not just on utilitarian modes, but what focuses on wholistic development … transcending provincial and national boundaries,” he said.

He described his role as leader of a Catholic institution of higher education as being two-pronged: focussing not only on the necessary professional metrics to provide a world-class quality education for students but also on the intangibles of tertiary education which may be invisible “but is the ‘why’ of what you do.”