If you’re like most students, the question, “Who runs ANU?” likely summons an image of Brian Schmidt sitting on the Iron Throne madly laughing while he signs orders to knock down residences, schedule weekend exams, and award himself more Nobel Prizes. The reality is a lot less dramatic, but still important: ANU is governed by the powerful University Council.

Video produced in 2017 regarding the ANU Council.

What is the University Council?

The University Council is where the leaders of the University, including Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt himself, make the big decisions about University policy. They decide policy for coursework and assessment, residential hall funding and management, campus redevelopments, admissions, and other key issues. The Council also chooses the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor when their terms end or they resign.

The Council is is established by the Australian National University Act 1991, which gives it governing authority over the University and establishes who has a seat,

Who is on the Council?

So, how do you get to be on this Council? Winning a Nobel Prize definitely helps, but there are many different pathways.

The Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor get an automatic spot, and the Chancellor sits as Chair, meaning he dictates the conduct of meetings. Next, every part of ANU gets represented: the Deans and heads of all the Academic Colleges and Research Schools choose one of their number to represent them; undergraduates and postgraduates each elect a student representative (this year, and in general, it’s the ANUSA and PARSA presidents); the University professional staff elect one; and the academic staff get two.

Representation is great, but ANU is also statutory body of the Federal Government, therefore the Education Minister gets to appoint the remaining seven members – almost half of the Council. However, the Minister tends to pick members based on the advice of the University.

Do the Student Representatives have any power?

Students are clearly in the minority on the Council. With two of the 15 positions, they can’t turn around and decide to implement a new policy, or change an ANU rule. But the inability to actually force any change shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is a powerful position and voice.

The most obvious power a student representative may have is in the deciding of a split vote. We have no way of knowing if, or how much, this actually happens – the vast majority of Council decisions are confidential, and all members are bound to confidentiality agreements. But even technical voting aside, having a seat at the table is immensely valuable to the student body from an advocacy perspective. The student representative on Council ensures that at any time, there’s a student who can say, “Hey, that’s not actually what’s best for students.”

How are decisions made?

These 15 councillors meet once a month to make all these decisions. As a student, you can actually go watch Council meetings, although you’ll probably have to leave the room for the confidential sections, which are almost all of them.

So that’s who decides your parking fees, library opening hours, and Union Court demolitions: an undergraduate and postgraduate student, two elected academics, one elected staff member, a Dean or head of a Research School, the Education Minister’s handpicked members, Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt, and Chancellor Gareth Evans.

This Year’s Members

Chancellor: Gareth Evans

Vice-Chancellor: Brian Schmidt

Dean/Head of School: Catherine Waldby, Director of Research School of Social Sciences

Academic: Jan Provis, Associate Dean of ANU Medical School

Academic: Tim Senden, Director of Research School of Physics and Engineering

Professional Staff: Deborah Veness, Manager of Student & Education Office in CASS

Student Appointments: Eleanor Kay (ANUSA) Alyssa Shaw (PARSA).

Minister’s Appointments:

Suzanne Cory

Natasha Stott Despoja

Naomi Flutter

Graeme Samuel

Anne-Marie Schwirtlich

Doug McTaggart

Peter Yu