An Evening with the Vice Chancellor

It’s a new month, and that meant another one of Mandelbaum House’s much-loved formal dinners. This time we were privileged to have the Vice Chancellor Mark Scott AO as our guest speaker.

The evening commenced with an Acknowledgement of Country given by one of Mandelbaum House’s Indigenous students and took on new meaning with the upcoming Voice referendum to be held that Saturday. We took a minute of silence to reflect on the recent events in Israel and Gaza.

We were entertained by a performance of “My Funny Valentine” by another of our Indigenous students, Taylah, who studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Being astute in their choice of repertoire and a skilful artist, the rendition was both beautiful and touching. We are blessed with talented students at Mandelbaum House.

The guest of the night, Professor Mark Scott gave a thought-provoking talk focussing on freedom of speech, the challenges the university faces, the university’s future goals and concluded with a Q&A that students eagerly engaged in. Following the formalities of the dinner, the Vice Chancellor stayed an extra hour to chat with residents and visiting students from AUJS.

The university upholds freedom of speech. Following the recent terror-attack in Israel, and the upcoming Voice referendum, the topic of freedom of speech seemed poignant. As Professor Mark Scott acknowledged, this means exercising your right to speak, but not supressing others’ right to it in the process. We must listen to the thoughts and feelings of others. We may not agree with them, and are free to do so, but must not act maliciously or violently towards them. Freedom of speech is a value that underpins our society and enables us to live in the way we do. It encourages difference, debate, and mutual learning that allows us to move forward in all spheres of life, politically, legally, socially, and technologically, in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Universities are a centre of such debate, and as such are a keystone in supporting freedom of speech.

The challenges and future plans of the university was a topic met with keen interest. Student cost of living became a focus. I was shocked to hear the VC talk of his days as a student of the university when Redfern was a cheap place to reside, and of the freedom of having no university fees. This sounded like a fairy-tale when set against the backdrop of the present with the current inflation and high cost of living. This modern dilemma leaves many unable to afford university attendance, or if attending, many struggle with it working part-time to support themselves. A question emerged: Are we being robbed of our youth?

The university is doing what it can for students. Currently, the Gadigal program supports approximately 70 new Indigenous students per year, enabling them to live on campus and access secondary education. Untapped potential exists in bright high school students, particularly those in rural areas, who don’t see secondary education as an option due to lack of financial, social, and other supports. The university wants to open their gates wide to such people. They will be the next generation of change-makers.

As someone hoping to pursue post-graduate medicine and potentially a PhD, I was excited to hear about the university plans to build a so-called “biomedical accelerator”. This will be an institute that bridges interdisciplinary walls, bringing together doctors, scientists, and technologists – particularly AI specialist- to ‘accelerate’ discovery and innovation. It sounds amazing!

While the university cannot solve all our problems (I wish), it continues to look out for students, and the globe, acting, as the university maxim goes, as a “leader for good”.

How can we make the most out of our education? What can we do to contribute to others’ education? How can we be the leaders of tomorrow? These and more were the questions that I, and many other students were left pondering after another enjoyable, informative, and thought-provoking formal dinner.

Article by: Annika Oakley (Mandelbaum resident)

Photography: Benny Shen