Ron Adams - transcript

Ron Adams:

Okay, I'm Ron Adams and I'm Director of Residential Services here at La Trobe and this time I've worked at La Trobe for about four and a half years as Director of Residential Services. Before that I was head of one of the colleges here, Glen College, about 12 years ago and many years ago, 30 odd years ago, I was in the History Department here as a tutor and a lecturer.

Nicole Humphreys:

You were a part of the first student cohort here at La Trobe, how has the University changed since then?

Ron Adams:

Back in 1967 there were between four and 500 students, that was the total student population. Today that's a population of just one residential college here at La Trobe so I suppose the change in size has been the most significant change and the university's become far more complex in that time as well. I was looking just yesterday at the first handbook, the prospectus for La Trobe back in 1967 and it's about the size of a student essay today, very few staff, very few courses being offered, very little opportunity to take courses outside the compulsory subjects. But with that small number of students and small number of staff there's a far greater degree of interaction and I think in the intimacy between staff and students than there is today. All of us were members of Glen College.

The original plan of the University was to have a series of colleges around the moat and every member of the university staff and student would be a member of a college. That changed after about three years but certainly in those first couple of years all of us who were here, staff and students, admin staff and academic staff all belonged to Glen College. We expected to eat in once a week so Monday night, even though I was a non-resident, I'd come and I'd have to dine in the dining hall at Glen College, we'd have to wear our academic gown and it was all part of this attempt to very quickly establish a sense of a university and it was based on that old Oxbridge College tradition, we'd all belong to a college. Events soon overtook us, internal events and external events, that was never going to really be achieved at La Trobe but for those first few years it gave us an incredible sense of community and a belonging and we identified with an intellectual academic community but we're also conscious of constituting that community and that's a… that was a rare privilege, I think.

Nicole Humphreys:

What were the hot topics in student politics that you were most involved in?

Ron Adams:

Well the '60s and the '70s, it was a time of Australia's engagement in the Vietnam War so that was pre-eminently the one topic that galvanised students and staff. These were the days of sit-ins, demonstrations. We had student leaders being jailed for contempt of court because of their refusal to toe the line here at La Trobe. I think that there's a certain viciousness certainly because people were so passionate about either in favour or against Australia's involvement in Vietnam but we were all politicised and I can't recall… well I can virtually recall no one who wasn't politicised and who wasn't taking a stand and there was a slogan at the time back in the early '70s not to decide is to decide and I think we took that seriously. No one felt that they could simply stand on the sidelines or sit on the fence, people had to be committed to a course of action and people were committed to different courses of action so it was a hotbed I think of discussion and confrontation of issues.

Looking at La Trobe today I think that that's probably one of the most profound changes so that those of us who were about in those years can see that there isn't that same sense of engagement with issues by and large. Many of the students come to La Trobe now who will perhaps attend a lecture and a tutorial but that's about the extent of their engagement with the University. Back in the '60s and the '70s it really was a fuller sense of engagement I think with all those sorts of issues. A number of students were also pushing for the University to be a socially responsible institution and that led to significant confrontation as well but I think it also… it was in keeping with La Trobe's founding legislation which was meant to make a difference, it was meant to democratise education and the students were I think taking it one step further than perhaps the people who framed that legislation envisaged.

Nicole Humphreys:

What does your current job entail?

Ron Adams:

I'm the Director of Residential Services so I've got a responsibility for the good order of all of our accommodation. We accommodate some thousands of students here and at Bendigo. We've got a duty of care to those students, if you like we're their family away from home and we take that seriously. We've got a mission statement in the division to offer the best residential life experience of any university in Australia and by and large I think we live up to that mission statement and I think that the students who are in Residential Services here at La Trobe have a much deeper sense of engagement, much more academic support, many more options in terms of community development, global tours, leadership training, all those sorts of aspects are far more valued here than at most other universities. I'm also a… expected to be and I am a good corporate citizen so one of my jobs is to return a very healthy surplus to the University and we do that, that was part of the reason I was brought in to establish the division, to turn around the financial situation of the accommodation services. And probably for some of my colleagues returning those healthy surpluses would be the most important part of the job but within that and within the constraint that that impose I'm really proud of what we achieve in terms of the residential life experience that we give our students.

Nicole Humphreys:

You have an incredible history at La Trobe, what is it about the University that keeps you coming back?

Ron Adams:

When I came to La Trobe in 1967 I came from a local suburb, I came from Watsonia. There was not an expectation I think that too many of us who went to in my case Watsonia High and then McLeod I would be coming to university, La Trobe opened just at that very point when I was finishing matric or HSCBCE now and so the opportunity was here for me to come to La Trobe. It opened up a different reality for me, it presented me with a set of options and opportunities which were lacking not only for me but I think for a whole generation of students from the northern suburbs around here, the catchment area of La Trobe. So I completed my degree here in Dip Ed and my PhD here, my wife is a graduate of La Trobe, my daughter's a graduate of La Trobe so I've got a profound sense of obligation to La Trobe and a profound sense of commitment in terms of I know from personal experience the opportunities it gave me, I know from wider experience the opportunities it gave to so many of the people I went through school with and I'm really pleased to be able to give something back so now that I'm heading for retirement I'm really thrilled that the final work that I'm doing in terms of the paid workforce is back at the place which gave me the foundation to be able to make a contribution.