Today Macquarie Business School farewelled Professors Norma Harrison and Gayle Avery. The following is the script of the presentation by Randal Tame farewelling Norma Harrison.
Henry Kissinger said that university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. Universities can be solipsistic and bureaucratic. It’s no surprise that Laurence Peter got the idea for his eponymous principle from observations of his colleagues at the university of Southern California.
Norma, who I am very privileged to be asked to write about, has risen to great heights in her university career - despite being none of these things. She is neither solipsistic nor bureaucratic, she is supremely competent but a bit crap at politics.
To be blunt, she can be. She tells it like it is.
You all know Norma for her significant contribution over the past two decades to Macquarie University through her various leadership roles. She is internationally regarded for her scholarly work in New Technology and Innovation Management, supply chain and operations and for her work with the Decision Sciences Institute and Operations Management Society. She is respected for her strategic and practical advice to industry and government.
But that’s Norma on her CV. Let me tell you a brief story about Norma that I think conveys the true measure of her character.
In early 2016 Norma accepted the role of acting dean of MGSM.
This was the perfect glass cliff role, a genuine poisoned chalice. She inherited a divided and demoralised faculty, dispirited staff and disillusioned alumni - and the VC had started his somewhat hostile campaign to align MGSM with FBE.
And here, there is the first insight into Norma’s character. What was unknown to all but the VC and Deputy VC academic was that Norma was diagnosed with cancer soon after her appointment and was undergoing chemo and radiotherapy for much of her service as dean.
But stubborn as an old nail in hard wood, Norma committed to the role and was the most positively active dean we had seen for years. Norma revived all staff meetings, regular faculty meetings and, inspired collaboration through development working parties. She re-engaged the alumni, refocused staff on teaching and research quality, and re-instituted organisational and academic groups that built a collegiate and accountable approach to both strategic and day-to-day issues.
Norma understood that in order to propel MGSM forward she needed to build new structures with staff that were founded on a positive sense of who we were and what we could be and that allowed us to live out that shared identity.
And here is the true grit of Norma’s leadership. Norma championed the interests of MGSM students, faculty, staff and alumni often when it was to her cost. Those who step up for the group in these acting roles, as Norma did, when there is little gain for them, rarely get thanks.
So, without Norma’s knowledge or permission, Eleanor Duncan and I decide to write her a letter of thanks and we asked faculty and staff if they would like to sign it. All but a few signed enthusiastically.
Cherie, MGSM’s receptionist came to me in tears saying how important Norma was to her and how the letter was the best thing she had seen done at MGSM in years.
Norma made a genuine and positive difference at Macquarie – oh, and during her tenure we came 47th in the FT rankings.
She the best of what a university academic leader can be. John Henry Newman in the “Idea of A University” wrote that “the role of a university is to give a [student] a clear, conscious view of their own opinions and judgements, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches them to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant.”
For me, it is Norma’s bluntness, her ability to see things as they are, to go right to the point, that makes her a truly great educator.
I admire Norma immensely as a leader, a mentor, and as a friend. She will leave a hole in Macquarie that will not be easily filled.
Norma Harrison will continue to assist the MGSM Alumni Association as an Advisory Council Member.
Director of MGSM Alumni Association