Humanities scholarship celebrated at Graduation

Published 06 April 2009

ryantorbayThe University of New England’s four Autumn Graduation ceremonies for 2009 concluded on Saturday 4 April with a celebration of scholarship in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

A highlight of Saturday’s ceremony was the presentation of an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters to one of UNE’s most internationally renowned and prolific scholars, Associate Professor John Ryan. In introducing Dr Ryan, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew, praised the “extremely wide range” of his research interests and achievements, and mentioned in particular his international eminence as a Tolkien scholar and as an authority on Australian and New Zealand English and Australian folklore, and his leading role in documenting the social history of the New England region.

“John Ryan has served the University as a teacher and researcher, and as an historian of UNE itself, for over 40 years,” Professor Pettigrew said, adding that Dr Ryan’s “interest in the community of the University, and his knowledge of its past, are unrivalled”.

The Occasional Address speaker on Saturday was Emeritus Professor Peter Sheehan AO, an eminent psychologist (Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the New York Academy of Sciences, and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society) who retired last year from the position of Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University.

Professor Sheehan pointed out that, in a social and political environment dominated by utilitarian values, it is often felt necessary to defend the study of the humanities by invoking the “useful skills” (problem-solving, etc.) that such a study can develop, while downplaying the value of the scholarly pursuit itself. “But humanities scholarship shouldn’t have to be defended in such a way,” he said.

He asserted the “absolute worth” of the humanities – a worth based primarily on “good scholarship” rather than on “products” such as marketable skills.

At the ceremony on Friday 3 April – for people graduating in Economics, Business and Law – the guest speaker was the Federal Member for New England, Tony Windsor. Both Mr Windsor and Professor Sheehan have strong associations with UNE – Mr Windsor as a graduate (Bachelor of Economics), and Professor Sheehan as a former Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Psychology (1968-1972).

Mr Windsor spoke to the graduands about the history of their disciplines at UNE, saying that many of their predecessors had gone on to leading roles in helping people around the world to feed themselves. In noting that the world again faced a turning point in food production – namely the dilemma of whether to grow crops for food or biofuel – Mr Windsor said: “I see you graduates as having the capacity to respond to these challenges.”

The Chancellor, the Hon. Richard Torbay MP, officiated at all four ceremonies, after being formally installed in the role of Chancellor at the beginning of the first ceremony on Friday 27 March.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, showing Associate Professor John Ryan (left) and the Chancellor, the Hon. Richard Torbay MP, expands to include the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew.