James Harris retires from Deputy Chancellor role

Published 01 October 2008

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James Harris is retiring from the position of Deputy Chancellor of the University  of New England after serving in that role for the past seven years. His current term finishes on the 6th of October.

The Chancellor of UNE, Mr John Cassidy, yesterday announced Dr Harris’s retirement as Deputy Chancellor, and the election of Armidale businessman Mr Scott Williams as his successor. Dr Harris will remain a member of the UNE Council.

“James has made an outstanding contribution to UNE, both as Deputy Chancellor and as a long-serving member of Council and Chair of several of its committees,” Mr Cassidy said. “That contribution, while grounded in his links with the University’s past, has been shaped by his vision for its future.”

James Harris’s association with UNE is one of both inheritance and personal commitment. In 1938 his maternal great-grandfather, Thomas Richmond Forster, gave a home to the New  England College of the University of  Sydney by donating the fine country residence “Booloominbah” for that purpose. His father’s family, too, has been associated with UNE since the time of its founding.

He grew up in Sydney, where his father worked as a doctor. He gained farming experience by working on several properties – and travelled abroad – before moving to the New England region in 1979 to take over the management of “Abington”, a grazing property 20 km south of Bundarra that had been in his mother’s family since the 1880s. He became the owner of “Abington” in 1990.

His work on the land has been combined with an active commitment to social issues in New England. In 1983-84 he was treasurer of the Save New England Action Group, which fought successfully to stop the acquisition of land by the Department of Defence for use as an artillery range. He was chairman of Armidale Wool Expo from 1983 to 1993 and, as a trustee of the New   England Regional Art Museum, was chairman (1993-1999) of the fund-raising committee for the building of Stage 2 of the museum.

This community involvement found an educational focus when the Minister for Education appointed him to the Council of UNE in 1994 – a time when the University was rediscovering its individual identity after the “Network University” experiment. He has remained a member of the UNE Council ever since, serving on several of its committees as well as chairing the Buildings and Grounds Committee (1994-2001) and the Audit and Compliance Committee (2001-2007). He was elected to the position of Deputy Chancellor in 2001.

His commitment to the University and the wider community was recognised by UNE last year when he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of the University.

Dr Harris will continue, as a member of the UNE Council, to work for the good of the University. His strong family connection to the University – and particularly to “Booloominbah” – gives him a unique perspective on – and concern for – UNE’s past, present and future.

The restoration of “Booloominbah” in the late 1990s was a particularly satisfying process for him. (“It’s good that the University now has a ‘heart’,” he said at the time.) And, in 2002, he was instrumental in securing substantial funding for the restoration of the magnificent Gordon Window in “Booloominbah”.

“It has been an honour and a privilege serving on the UNE Council over the past 14 years, and as Deputy Chancellor for seven of those years,” Dr Harris said. “I’ve found it challenging, exasperating, and fun – all together . . . and (at times) separately.

“UNE is a vital part of the Armidale community and economy, and it must continue to thrive, grow, and maintain its strengths in its many fields of endeavour.”

The incoming Deputy Chancellor, Mr Scott Williams, said yesterday: “James was a great help to me when I first joined the UNE Council. He is, in many ways, the collective memory of Council, being its longest-serving member. There can be no doubt that UNE has been well and loyally served by Dr Harris in all his Council roles – and, in particular, that of Deputy Chancellor.”

“It’s good news that Dr Harris’s knowledge and skills will remain available to Council and UNE through his continuing membership of the UNE Council,” Mr Williams added.