"Creativity is not just about creating ideas now but for the future, and for universities to do this we need to continue our honourable role as think tanks of creative opportunities" - Professor Ian O'Connor (2007).
Professor Ian O'Connor grew up in Townsville, North Queensland, and eventually embarked upon his academic career by undertaking a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Queensland in 1980. His ongoing studies and research saw him rise through the academic ranks at University of Queensland and in 2001, he became President of the University of Queensland Academic Board. In August of 2002, Professor O'Connor came to our university beginning as the new Deputy Vice Chancellor (Teaching and Learning). With an agenda of enhancing student learning and improving student learning outcomes - Professor O'Connor spent 16 years at Griffith taking over as our fourth Vice Chancellor (VC) on January 1 2005 and continuing in this role until December of 2018.
"Leadership is core to the purpose of the University. Through our teaching and learning programs we develop the leaders of tomorrow - the next generation of professionals committed to making a difference in their discipline and as educated citizens" - Professor Ian O'Connor (2006).
Professor O'Connor began as our Vice Chancellor with one of his focuses being on lifting our university's performance in the areas of research and teaching as well learning outcomes. By July of 2005, he had released Griffith University's Strategic Plan 2006-2010 intended to guide and grow our university through the early part of the 21st Century. Among his many notable achievements in his first year of leadership was securing funding from the Queensland Government to build a new teaching hospital at our Gold Coast campus. This arrangement came on the back of the opening of our School of Medicine and Oral Hygiene (Dentistry) - with this enterprise seeing the first new dentistry School to open in Australian in more than sixty years. In a first year that saw him hit the ground running as our VC - Professor O'Connor also secured funding for Australia's first public chemical compounds library based at Griffith and established the Griffith Islamic Research Unit. By 2006, and in line with our university's 'Strategic Plan 2003-2007'' - Professor O'Connor began to change several the University's business practices. These included:
*individual campuses raising their distinctive profiles and promoting their unique strengths
*increasing our international research profile and standing
*increasing community engagement activities
*discarding low enrolment/low demand courses
These areas of focus were supported by a range of initiatives which included establishing the annual Griffith Nobel Lecture at our Gold Coast campus and the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (Queensland base) was formed at our Nathan campus with the aid of significant Australian Government funding. There were also changes made to our internal funding model which encouraged our university's Schools and business units to increase income (where possible) through financial return on services offered and/or reduce expenditure on their activities.
Professor O'Connor delivered a number of significant achievements during his first five years as VC. These included founding the Griffith Honours College (2008) which was established to attract and retain high-achieving students. Professor O'Connor also took the opportunity to build on one of our university's founding principles (establishing strong ties with Asia) to instigate the The Australia-China Future Dialogues initiative with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke as the first keynote speaker. On a personal professional note, Professor O'Connor was appointed a 'Smart State Ambassador' by the Queensland Government (2007) - a role that would see him promote Queensland as a first-class education and research destination during his travels both nationally and overseas.
"One of the special privileges of being Vice Chancellor is the pleasure of witnessing the extraordinary contributions of our staff, students and alumni to their local, national and international communities” - Professor Ian O'Connor (2012).
Professor O'Connor began the second decade of the 21st Century with the news in 2010 that our university was the Australian Government's 'Employer of Choice for Women' for the tenth straight year. Additionally, Griffith had been nationally recognised as Australia's leading organisation (with over 800 employees) for the advancement of women in the workplace. This period also saw him introduce specific and ongoing corporate strategies to increase our student retention rate and improve our students' university experience. These priorities saw initiatives such as WIL (Work Integrated Learning) programs introduced and 'quality control' measures put in place across our Schools, programs and courses. A new advertising campaign came with this 'student-centred' approach and the - 'Know More. Do More.' - corporate branding campaign was launched in 2011.
During this period there were also several prominent building openings including the Griffith Health Centre/Gold Coast University Hospital and the '6 Star' Green Star rated Sir Samuel Griffith Building. The Sir Samuel Griffith Building became Australia's first teaching and research facility to be entirely powered by 'photovoltaics' (a process that converts light into electricity). Professor O'Connor decided at this time to again turn his attention to some of our university's founding principles - a strong relationship with Asia and conducting research that attempts to solve genuine problems faced by society. A refocus on these foundation beliefs saw his 'Griffith University in the Asian Century' enterprise rolled out which included arming our students with 'Asia-capable' skills and knowledge. There was also to be increased effort to build research relationships with our Asian neighbours.
The 2010-2014 years saw Professor O'Connor's efforts and those of our three previous Vice Chancellors rewarded as our university began significant movement up the international rankings for tertiary institutions. In 2012, Griffith was named in the 'Top 100 Universities' in the world for universities under fifty years of age. This was also the year that the Professor O'Connor's Strategic Plan 2013-2017 was presented to and endorsed by the Council of Griffith University. By 2013, Griffith was ranked in the 'Top 500' universities worldwide across five major international university ranking indices. The following year, our 'Top 500' positioning was recorded across eight international ranking indicators.
"Our inspiring staff, students and alumni have each played an essential part in the broadening and deepening of our impact and engagement across the globe" - Professor Ian O'Connor (2016).
The final four years of Professor O'Connor's tenure as Vice Chancellor presented him with both opportunities and challenges. During this closing period of his leadership, it became necessary for Professor O'Connor to 'future-proof' our university against an uncertain financial climate for Australian universities. Reductions in federal funding and how funds were allocated to individual universities along with an increasingly competitive tertiary education market, meant some resourcefulness was required. This difficult period gave birth to initiatives such as The Griffith College opening to provide a further pathway to studying at our institution. Our university also moved to a 'trimester' (instead of semester) teaching model offering the flexibility of three yearly entry dates to studying at our organisation. Improved and more flexible online study options were also implemented by Professor O'Connor during this final period. The success of this endeavour sees online study today recognised as our sixth 'campus'.
Throughout his challenging final years at Griffith - Professor O'Connor had numerous highlights. One lasting and notable achievement was Griffith University being made the Official University Partner and a major sponsor of the 2018 Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast. The direct and indirect benefits to our organisation through this partnership are expected to continue long after 2018. There was also the opening of The Menzies Health Institute Queensland which brought together more than 750 researchers from around the world studying things such cancer treatment, ageing, childhood illnesses and psychological health.
On the academic/teaching front, under his direction our university had won more federal government teaching citations (44) than any other Australian University for the period 2010-2016. On the world stage, 2017 ended with our best outcomes in international ranking indices which included Griffith having eleven subject areas ranked in the top 100 worldwide. Our university began teaching with 451 students in 1975. When Professor O'Connor finished at Griffith in December of 2018 - over 50 000 students from around the world were studying with us. His contributions as an academic and Vice Chancellor will benefit Griffith University and the wider community for years to come.