THE University of New England’s new chancellor is hoping to restore the reputation of his position following the abrupt departure of predecessor Richard Torbay.
Former deputy premier John Watkins was appointed as chancellor by the UNE Council last week.
He replaces Mr Torbay, who resigned last month after allegations against him were referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Mr Watkins said the university’s reputation had suffered a blow as a result of Mr Torbay’s resignation.
“The last six weeks have been really difficult for the university and I think it’s been difficult for the community of Armidale,” he said.
“He was such a popular figure and loved by a lot of people.
“Whether or not I can help change or improve the reputation or fix some of that damage will be determined by what I do, not what I say.”
Outside his career in politics, Mr Watkins has worked as a teacher, Alzheimer’s Australia’s chief executive officer and sat on boards in the health and education sector.
He has been a member of the UNE Council for six years and said he was surprised by the institution’s deep connection with Armidale.
“I live five kilometres from Macquarie University but it may as well be 500 miles away,” he said.
“Everyone here realises that Armidale is critical to the university; our nature, our character is determined by what happens in town.”
Despite fears of an emerging schism in town-gown relations, Mr Watkins said the university could balance its priorities between the city and the need to expand its online presence.
“We’ll deliver to Armidale better if we do well in the online space,” he said.
“I don’t see them as conflicting issues; one can support the other.”
Mr Watkins said the tightening of teacher training requirements and federal funding cuts would be two key issues the university would need to contend with over the next 12 months.
“Whoever wins the next election is going to be tightening up on things like education, health and social security,” he said.
“The cuts are obviously going to be a challenge for us.”