Reflections of a Dean

peter darvall headshot

Peter Darvall

It was my great privilege to be Dean of the Monash Faculty of Engineering in the years 1988-94.

In the time of my predecessors, Ken Hunt 1961-76 and Lance Endersbee 1976-88, the Faculty had developed strong Departments, and teaching and research programs. The Faculty had an excellent reputation, as confirmed in the Williams Report (1988) on Engineering Education in Australia.

During my time, we overhauled the undergraduate courses, moving away from the traditional passing-by-years structure to one of accumulation of subject credits. The Williams and other previous Reviews had been consistent in their findings that engineering courses were too rigid and heavy, even demotivating at times. It was an extraordinary effort by the Faculty staff to achieve this radical change.

The Faculty was strong “across the board” and, with partners, succeeded in competition for funds for seven Centres from the new Commonwealth Co-Operative Research Centres Program. As well, we developed close liaison with sectors of engineering industry, setting up teaching and research Centres in such areas as Pulp and Paper, Telecommunications and Electrical Power Engineering. The Faculty was the first at Monash to appoint an Associate Dean (Research), Professor Brian Cherry.

On the teaching and learning side, we established the UNESCO-Supported International Centre for Engineering Education (USICEE), with Associate Professor Zenon Pudlowski as its Director, and introduced Teaching Awards.

A lot of my time in the early years of my Deanship was spent visiting schools to promote our courses, and industries to support our new Co-Operative Education Scholarships. In 1991, the Faculty obtained more first preferences from school-leavers than the Engineering Faculty of the University of Melbourne for the first time. The proportion of women in our courses increased substantially under our Women in Engineering Program.

It was the Faculty’s “turn” for new buildings, including the Engineering Halls, and a building for Civil Engineering, which were sorely needed by that time.

Later in my term as Dean, our agenda was dominated by the mergers with the Schools of Engineering at the Chisholm Institute of Technology (at Caulfield) and the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education (at Churchill). Most staff in the Faculty at Clayton were not happy with the mergers, believing that they threatened the hard-won reputation of the Faculty. It was difficult for me, because my colleagues knew that I was not in favour of the mergers, but was committed to “sell” and implement them since the Committee of Deans, the Professorial Board and the Council of the University had endorsed the merger proposals. It was particularly unpleasant to have anonymous notices calling me a “Quisling” posted around the Faculty. Most staff, however, accepted the inevitable quite graciously and we managed the mergers very well, though predicting at the time that it would take a generation for them to settle properly. And twenty years later, we can say that the prediction was correct.

Other developments during my time as Dean included rapid growth in international-student numbers, the establishment of the Engineering Foundation, rationalisation of faculty and departmental workshops, upgrading of faculty administration, and introduction of a number of student-exchange schemes with universities overseas.

We had a number of memorable events and parties, notably the formal function in the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1993, to celebrate the 128th birthday of the great General Sir John Monash himself, who joined us on the night from his grave in the Brighton Cemetery, resplendent in his formal mess uniform with scarlet jacket. It was one of the most famous roles for Campbell McComas, a Law graduate of Monash.

My life as Dean of Engineering was always enhanced by interaction with a great number of admirable and congenial colleagues. I remain in contact with many of them.  

Peter Darvall

(Updated Jun 8, 2011) Printed on: