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The path to a full-time Dean

In early February 1973 Professor Ken Hunt sent a handwritten memo to the Vice-Chancellor. The tone was casual. There was no formal greeting or salutation. He simply opened with, ‘I have been meaning to bring up in conversation but somehow the opportunity never seems to have arisen recently, or else I had forgotten.’ Going by Hunt’s tone, the memo could have been about anything – a topic for discussion at an upcoming meeting perhaps, or maybe an idea about resources, a new course or a research project. But it wasn’t. This memo wasn’t about just anything. It was about Hunt’s resignation as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

Hunt continued in his memo, ‘I believe that three five year terms in succession is enough for anyone, and certainly enough for any faculty. By mid 1976 I shall have completed such a fifteen year period, sixteen really if one includes the 1960/61 stretch.’ And at that, Hunt announced his intention to resign by the end of 1976. While this may seem a lengthy period of notice, for Hunt, it was necessary. He had, after all, been there from the beginning. He had helped build the Faculty of Engineering, from its very foundations.

Ken Hunt came to Monash from the University of Melbourne, where he was a Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering. While almost a year elapsed between when he applied for the position and when it was offered to him, Hunt’s enthusiasm had not waned. He signed off his official acceptance with the affirmation, ‘please realise that I value the trust that your Council places in me, and I look forward with keen interest to the years which lie ahead’. 

At the time Hunt was appointed Chair of Engineering at Monash, the Faculty’s first Professor, there was literally nothing there. No faculty buildings, no laboratories, no lecture theatres, no established courses, nothing. Interestingly, while he was the first staff appointment and expected to head the small group of senior lecturers who joined the Faculty shortly after him in 1961, Hunt was not initially appointed Dean. No-one was. The Faculty simply didn’t have one. In fact, the only faculty that had a full-time Dean was Medicine. At the very last meeting of the Interim Council, in June 1961, the Vice-Chancellor brought up the issue of Deans across the University. He said:

full-time deanships [are] essential in all major faculties and [I think] it desirable, in view of the current advertisements for further staff, that decisions be made about such deanships in the Faculty of Economics and Politics and of Engineering, in each of which there is only one Professor.

At this meeting Matheson called for the eventual appointment of a full-time Dean in all faculties. In the meantime though, he suggested that the sole professors of the Faculties of Economics and Engineering each be appointed Dean for a period of five years. By the end of the meeting Ken Hunt was made Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. However, for these first five years Hunt was required to maintain his teaching load and other responsibilities. He was classed as an elective Dean, meaning that his responsibilities as Dean were additional to his existing role as Chair of Engineering.

Several years passed as Hunt and his steadily growing group of academic, general and technical staff brought the Faculty to life. By 1964, departments had emerged within the Faculty – five in total: Mechanical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Applied Mechanics. Each of these departments had a Professorial Head who was responsible for its operation and direction. As well as being Dean, teaching undergraduate students, supervising postgraduate students and carrying out his own research where possible, Ken Hunt was also Head of the Department of Applied Mechanics. His level of responsibility was immense.

dean letter to hunt
Letter of offer

Then, in January 1966 Hunt received word from Matheson that he had been appointed Dean for a further five years. As Matheson had foreshadowed back in 1961, this time, the Deanship would be a full-time position. This appointment was hugely significant both for Hunt and for the Faculty of Engineering. For Hunt, it meant that he could finally focus on leading the Faculty. No longer would he have to juggle his teaching load, his research, and his leadership of the Department of Applied Mechanics with steering, directing and planning the future of the Faculty. For the Faculty it meant validation and consolidation.

A press release announcing Hunt’s acceptance of the Deanship read:

Professor K.H. Hunt, who for the past five years has combined the duties of Professor of Applied Mechanics and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, has accepted the University Council’s invitation to occupy the new position of full-time Dean of that Faculty. Professor Hunt will assume the duties of full-time deanship on the 20th June, 1966.

Commenting that many leadership issues in the Faculty would be made easier when he became independent of any department, Hunt appears to have been aware of the need to rescind his post as Head of Applied Mechanics. However, Hunt’s appointment as full-time Dean effectively signaled the end of this department and in 1967 it was absorbed by the Department of Mechanical Engineering.