Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Macquarie VC Seeks Practical Wisdom

Universities need to equip graduates with practical wisdom to help them exercise “moral will” and “moral skill”, the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University, Professor Steven Schwartz, told residents and staff at this year’s Scholars Dinner.

Professor Schwartz, who has served as Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University in London and of Murdoch University in Perth, made the comments after presenting 35 Warrane residents with Scholars Medallions in recognition of their achievement of a distinction average in their subjects in 2010.

After the ceremony in the Warrane Dining Room on Wednesday, March 23, he spoke in the Main Common Room about the failure of apparently carefully trained people to exercise independent thought, sometimes in critical situations where people’s lives were at risk. He gave three examples:

Trained emergency workers who failed to assist a young man lost in a national park because he was unable to give them the nearest cross street; Airport staff who prevented a woman from taking a tiny plastic model of a gun onto a flight because it was classified as a weapon; and An Australian medical insurance representative who refused to accept that he (Professor Schwartz) had returned to Australia because he had no documentary proof.

The fact that he was sitting right in front of her in her office was not considered to be acceptable proof. Professor Schwartz said the actions of “hidebound adherents to the rules” can lead to serious consequences and argued that being about to think for oneself was one of the differences between “training” and “education”.

“We need more than a trained workforce,” he said. “We need to expand our education. We need people who can use their brains. Circumstances change and people have to change with them as well.” Professor Schwartz said General Motors, which was once the biggest corporation in the world, had at one stage a collection of work rules that filled 5,000 pages.

“That’s the opposite of having an empowered workforce,” he said.

His own institution, Macquarie University, was taking steps to equip students to gain practical wisdom by requiring every single student to do something “out in the world”, either in Australia or overseas.

“We want them to do something for someone else because we think that is the way they will most likely learn (practical wisdom),” he said. “We believe they will become people who not only want to do the right thing, but who know how to do it.”

This year’s Warrane Scholars are:

(Click here to see photographs of the scholars receiving their medallions)