University of Sydney vice-chancellor leaves behind vast legacy

One last look … Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence (third from left) visits the sixth floor entrance to the University’s new student and staff spaces in the Central Acute Services Building and Innovation Centre. Michael is joined by Robyn Ward, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Sydney; Chris Peck, Director, University’s Westmead Initiative, University of Sydney; Belinda Hutchinson, Chancellor, University of Sydney; Kate O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer, Westmead Initiative Precinct Transition, University of Sydney; Kirsten Andrews, Chief of Staff, Department of the VC & Principal, University of Sydney.

He may be heading to England’s capital, but there is so much Dr Michael Spence AC is leaving behind in Westmead.

The departing vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Sydney will take up the role of president and provost of University College London in January.

But for now, during his farewell and last official Westmead function, his thoughts turned to Westmead Health Precinct’s people and potential.

“I’ve spent more than a third of my life in one way or another at the University of Sydney,” Michael said. “I love this institution, I love this place.

“There’s something very special about having been in a tiny way a part of the extraordinary story that has been Westmead over the past 12 years. And for that I’m profoundly grateful.

“You do leave your heart in a place.”

Guests mirrored this gratitude in a function area fittingly situated in the heart of the precinct.

Adjacent to Westmead Hospital, the third-level room of the new Innovation Centre afforded 180-degree views over Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR), the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW).

Tony Cunningham, Director of the Australian Centre for HIV & Hepatitis Virology Research, WIMR; Phil Chronican, Board Chair, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research; Professor Jeremy Chapman AC, Deputy Board Chair, WSLHD.

Each of these proud institutions were represented in an afternoon reception, hosted by Western Sydney Local Health District Board Chair Richard Alcock AO, to simply say thanks to a man who helped lead so many complex projects.

“You’ve had a part in shaping directions at Westmead through driving education and research,” deputy Board Chair, WSLHD, Professor Jeremy Chapman AC told guests.

“Your passion and vision have helped create Westmead Health Precinct to establish the future pathways to change the face of the city.

“You will always leave a part of your heart in a place and country where you’ve vested so much energy, so much time and so much love.”

Director of CMRI, Professor Roger Reddel paid tribute to Michael’s philanthropy, intellectual curiosity and courage.

“Courage to show the University stands for something and has a view on important issues,” Roger said. “Courage to create the western campus… people will look back on this decision as one of the major aspects of the legacy you’ve left at the university.”

And it was this collective campus on which Michael was keen to focus.

Sydney University vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence; Tania Sorrell, Director, Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases & Biosecurity; Emma McCahon, A/Chief Executive, WSLHD.

“Westmead was by any measure an extraordinary place when I arrived; a whole generation of people who had built a remarkable health community, hospital and achieved extraordinary things,” he said.

“To be here now in this remarkable facility to which the university has contributed has just been a great joy.

“We’re now investing in Westmead because this area has Australia’s second highest rate of post-graduate educational qualifications and is part of Sydney’s quickest-growing economy.”

After University guests toured key landmarks in the adjoining Central Acute Services Building, Michael enjoyed a final moment to reflect as he looked up from the ground floor of the Innovation Centre.

“Westmead Hospital has been a place of innovation for 40 years… To be part of those things is truly a moment of pride and great joy.

“The incredible inflow of talent and remarkable facilities will provide exponential growth in the quality of work. And that will make Westmead truly a world-leading centre of health, education, research and clinical care.

“This building will bring new research and teaching ideas to life… innovation creates jobs and attracts people from all over the world. It will be a dynamic centre of activity.

“From my first day here, it was clear this was a place of extraordinary talent. Now that talent and facilities meet to provide a real opportunity, not just for Western Sydney but for NSW and Australia.”

  • Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton will take on the role of Vice-Chancellor and Principal following the departure of Dr Michael Spence.