Erle Robinson: life-long champion of justice

Published 23 November 2008

erlerobinson.jpgErle Robinson, who died on Tuesday 18 November at the age of 84, is remembered by his former colleagues at the University of New England for his untiring pursuit of justice.

From his arrival as a lecturer in Philosophy in 1954 – the year the University gained autonomy – till his retirement in 1989, he devoted his academic career to the education and welfare of his students and the health of the institution. “He was the sort of ‘thorn in the side’ of Administration that every administration should be grateful to have,” said UNE’s current Professor of Philosophy, Peter Forrest.

Professor Forrest said he had encountered former students whose most vivid memory of their university days was “Erle teaching them ethics”. And Mr Robinson’s colleagues – even those who were his antagonists in one or other of his campaigns for institutional justice – all remember him with fondness and respect.

Erle Robinson (pictured here) was born and educated in New Zealand, where he gained a law degree and practised law before developing – through a Master of Arts degree – his vocational interest in philosophy. As a leading figure in UNE’s development of philosophy programs for external students, he upheld the principle that external students should be taught and examined according to the same standards as internal students. It was his “pragmatic advice” (as one former colleague put it) that “helped to shape the University’s external Bachelor of Arts degree”.

In 1957 he was elected to represent undergraduate students on the UNE Council, and he continued to serve in that role until 1960, when he took a year’s study leave. From 1976 to 1980, and then again from 1982 to 1984, he served as a member of Council elected by the academic staff. He served as President of the UNE Teachers’ Association, and was active in the Student Christian Movement.

His life-long pursuit of justice was remarkable for its integrity: his determined opposition to what he believed to be wrong was balanced by a lack of personal rancour. “He never bore malice,” one of his colleagues recalled.

Erle Robinson’s unique contribution to UNE over 35 years was a product of that integrity.

He is survived by his wife Marcia (whom he married in 1960), their daughter Christine, and their grandchildren Timothy and Genevieve. Their son Stephen was killed in an ice avalanche on Mount Cook, New Zealand, in 1997.

The funeral service for Erle Robinson will be at St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, at 11 am on Tuesday 25 November.