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Strategy and vision

Change and redirection for a consolidated Faculty

With the Faculty’s activities consolidated on the Clayton campus, the pursuits/interests/operations of the Faculty became more focused. Curriculum change, research output and international ventures continued to be the major driving forces of Engineering. As the new millennium dawned, Brisk sought reappointment as Dean of the Faculty and his second term commenced in the year 2000. It was around this time that Tamarapu Sridhar, then Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, became increasingly involved in the leadership of the Faculty.

Sridhar was a long time member of the Faculty. After completing his degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Madras in southern India and gaining a masters degree at the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore, Sridhar applied for a research fellowship or scholarship to undertake his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Monash. It was just before Christmas in 1973 that Sridhar received a one-page letter offering him the fellowship at Monash. He arrived in March 1974 and commenced his studies under the tutelage of Owen Potter. After completing his PhD, Sridhar joined the staff of the Department of Chemical Engineering and progressed through the academic ranks before becoming Head of Department just after the mergers in 1992.

As Sridhar became more senior in the Faculty, he became increasingly involved with issues relating to its direction and leadership. As a result he became more aware of and progressively involved in the issues that faced the Faculty. Sridhar became Associate Dean in 1997, which, as he recalls, was a less formal role than it is now:

I would stand in for [the Dean] when he was away and be a sounding-board for him if he chose to use me as that. That sort of slowly exposed me to some of the issues. There was a very vigorous debate within the group of Heads about where Monash was. I think our research performance was certainly going down in some ways; Chemical Engineering was still doing very well but other departments were struggling because they were more impacted by amalgamations. 

The withdrawal of Engineering from Gippsland in particular was a major issue that Sridhar associates with this period. It was also around this time that Sridhar became a member of the Monash University Council. His main motivation in this forum was concern about the declining standards of what he felt Monash was striving to be. Sridhar recalls:

I didn't think it was performing as well in research as it should if it wanted to maintain its reputation. So I decided to actually get on to Council and serve, and look at the governance issues. That of course exposed me to the other issues of running a university. 

The most recent leadership change

Brisk had been reappointed for a period of three years in 2000. However he began to experience serious health issues and was advised to step down from the deanship as it was becoming detrimental to his wellbeing. In early 2002 Brisk informed the Vice-Chancellor that he would be stepping down from the deanship at the end of the year. A selection committee was formed and the search began for a new Dean.

While Sridhar was becoming increasingly involved in Faculty leadership and University issues, it was not his intention to become Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. In fact, Sridhar was originally on the selection committee for the new Dean when it was formed. However, Sridhar was convinced by several senior staff within the Faculty and the University that if he really wanted to bring about change, he would be best placed to do so as Dean. But Sridhar remained reluctant. He had by then become a Sir John Monash Distinguished Professor on the basis of his research excellence and was well aware that the deanship would severely compromise his ability to engage in high level research. A former colleague recalls that John Sheridan played a major role in convincing Sridhar to step forward and apply for the role. Sridhar recollects that ‘in a moment of madness I agreed to put forward my application for the deanship, but it was based on the clear understanding that I would be given the freedom to prosecute changes that I wished’.

audio file
The path to Dean (audio)

With Sridhar’s appointment in 2003, the most recent chapter of the Faculty’s history commenced. With the base of the Faculty’s Australian activities drawn together once again at the Clayton campus, Sridhar was able to put forward a more cohesive plan for the future of the Faculty. Interestingly Sridhar continued along the structural path that Darvall had begun in the 1990s. A more centralised system of Faculty management emerged and the Faculty, as a result, has become the centre of Engineering at Monash. Departments remain strong and critical to the operations of the Faculty, but much of the strategic direction is led by the Faculty.

Sridhar’s focus to date has been to build the research profile of the Faculty and increase the quality of Engineering students at Monash. Performance measures and benchmarking have enabled him to further improve the quality of both research and teaching. Sridhar’s leadership has been innovative and dynamic. New initiatives like the Leadership Program have been introduced and have been applauded by industry, students and the University. In addition Sridhar has continued the Faculty’s journey along the path of globalisation that both Brisk and the University were so clearly behind. The Faculty’s activities have extended into China and India as a result.

The future of the Faculty of Engineering will be, without doubt, dynamic and exciting. Over the past 50 years its character and identity have been shaped equally by its leaders, its students and its academic, general and technical staff. If he could see the Faculty of Engineering and the diversity of its activities today, Foundation Dean Ken Hunt might be overwhelmed, or overawed at its magnitude. But, he would also be proud and humbled. For many of the values that he and his foundation staff espoused while building the Faculty – a commitment to the highest quality teaching and research; the employment and fostering of exceptional staff and students; and close links with industry and the wider community – continue to guide the Faculty today and into its future.

References

  1. Monash University Archives, 90/0413 – Structure & Management – Faculties & Deans – Appointment of Deans & Associate Deans – Engineering
  1. Monash University Archives, Peter Darvall Staff File
  2. Monash University Archives, Mike Brisk Staff File
  3. Monash University Archives, Peter Darvall Interview
  4. Monash University Archives, Bill Melbourne Interview
  5. Monash University Archives, Brendon Parker Interview
  6. Monash University Archives, John Sheridan Interview
  7. Monash University Archives, Tam Sridhar Interview
  1. Simon Marginson, Monash: Remaking the University, Allen & Unwin, New South Wales, 2000