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Our Students: Then

As a young 18 year old undergraduate and student politician I had a direct telephone line to the Vice-Chancellor and assumed that I 'could barge up to his office at any time and see him'. Generally I could.

Sian Lewis - Foundation student and later President of the Griffith University Union of Students reflecting on the access she enjoyed to foundation VC Professor John Willett.

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Griffith University was established to provide its students with an alternative educational experience and to challenge existing teaching practices/structures of other universities. The day before Griffith University's first teaching day on the 5th March 1975, staff were still moving books onto library shelves, teaching areas and staff offices were still being prepared, and cement was in some cases, literally still being poured. From over 2000 applicants, 451 students were enrolled to begin study on the University's first day of teaching, with students enrolled to study in one of four Schools: Australian Environmental Studies, Humanities, Science, and Modern Asian Studies.

This alternative approach to university teaching created some uncertainty for those early staff and students. The less structured and flexible, interdisciplinary teaching approach proved unsettling for some academics who were used to the more rigid and conservative teaching models traditionally found in other universities. Experimentation with teaching content and teaching delivery/assessment raised concerns with some academics about the quality and efficiency of programs being offered. On the other hand, students in the early years were not always comfortable with being encouraged to refer directly to academic staff by first name. Nor was it always easy for students during classes to be challenged by their lecturers presenting them with opposing arguments on issues, and then being asked to take a side and in turn defend a position they may not agree with.

This enlightened and inclusive teaching philosophy was not exclusive to the class room. Students could be surprised to find themselves (outside of classes) in the University common room having open and frank discussions with academics on a variety of societal issues while having their lunch. Perhaps one of the most remarkable regular occurrences for both students and staff alike during lunch time in the common room was the presence of the Vice Chancellor, having his own lunch while engaging with students and contributing to the conversations being held. The University's Interim and First Council vision of staff-student egalitarianism and inclusiveness being embraced by all staff from the Vice Chancellor down, was one feature of university life for these early years students.

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