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Strategy and vision

Strong leadership through a period of change

audio file
The Privatisation of the SEC (audio)

Peter Darvall’s deanship had brought about a considerable level of change within the Faculty – both at his instigation and as a result of changes in the tertiary sector that were occurring at the time. Under his leadership, committee roles and functions were clarified, the leadership base of the Faculty was broadened, new avenues of external funding were sought with ventures such as the Faculty of Engineering Foundation, research activity flourished, and teaching activity continued to strengthen. Whether it was realised at the time or not, many of these changes strengthened the Faculty as an entity and ensured it was well prepared for the coming years. Slowly, the voice of the Faculty as an entity was strengthening.

Major changes in higher education policy that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s were having an equally significant impact on the Faculty. Darvall steered the Faculty through one of the most challenging periods of its 50-year history – the mergesr with the Chisholm Institute of Technology and the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education. It was a turbulent time for the Faculty, and as Darvall himself recalled:

There was a lot of fear and loathing involved; I'd say loathing on the part of some of the staff in the Faculty at Clayton, and fear on the part of those at Caulfield that they would be treated with disdain and contempt. It was a very difficult time. 

Vice-Chancellor Mal Logan was the driving force behind the Monash mergers. He was insistent that the amalgamations would be highly beneficial for all involved, particularly Monash. Plans for the mergers were brought to the Committee of Deans – a decision-making forum comprising deans from each faculty. Darvall was vehement in his disapproval. In fact, he voted against it at the Committee of Deans. However, as he recalls:

I learned the hard way the principle of cabinet solidarity. So once the decision was made, the Faculty of Engineering had to do it whether they liked it or not; to not merge was not an option. So I went about doing it as positively, and as enthusiastically, and as tactfully as I could. There were some pretty vigorous discussions, I have to say, about titles and privileges, and curriculum setting, and all of the things that are normally discussed at an Engineering Faculty. 

Looking back on this period, many current and former staff acknowledge the angst, turmoil and disquiet caused by the mergers. But many also recognise the strong leadership that Darvall provided. Several Faculty meetings were held to communicate the merger plans and logistics. While a forum for discussion and feedback was created, Darvall’s stance on the merger was unwavering, despite his personal opinion. The University would merge and his focus was on bringing this change about. Brendon Parker, who later became head of the Faculty operations at Gippsland, commented that Darvall ‘led the Faculty through the challenges of amalgamation. Although they didn't thank him for the amalgamation, I think he did lead [the Faculty] through it.’ When Darvall later stepped down from the deanship, staff at the Caulfield campus awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Leadership Engineering in recognition of his leadership in this difficult time.

While Darvall provided strong and clear leadership during this period, some have argued that the fundamental difference between the campuses – namely that the emphasis of the Clayton departments was on research and teaching, while the focus of both Chisholm and Gippsland was teaching – was not dealt with at this critical point. Rather than try immediately to integrate the degrees so that the Faculty offered one degree across three campuses, three separate degrees on three separate campuses were offered by Engineering. As the then Head of Administration David Secomb recalls, explaining the difference between these similarly named Monash degrees to potential students was extremely difficult, not to mention time consuming.

In addition, because research was not a focus at Chisholm or Gippsland, their research output was understandably low. The effect of this was a dramatic reduction in the average number of research publications produced by staff of the Faculty – many Clayton staff found this reality frustrating and a devastating blow to the research reputation they had worked hard to establish.