Wednesday, 23 July, 2014

Image Courtesy of the University of Melbourne

Professor Glyn Davis and I meet in the University of Melbourne Communications office. He opens the door for me himself and tells me to dismiss the formalities and call him “just Glyn”.

Glyn is wearing a blue floral-patterned tie with his striped shirt and black jacket. His hands are moving so much I can’t see what brand his watch is. But with its thick leather strap, I assume it’s expensive. His wedding band has grooves in it but, again, his hands move too often for me to observe them.

He’s also wearing a pin for the university’s ‘Believe’ campaign. The campaign encourages University of Melbourne alumni to donate to the university in order to help maintain its facilities and staff. He doesn’t fail to mention it during our conversation.

I tell him it’s pretty nice of him to meet with me, especially since he’s a near-celebrity figure on campus.

“That’s not how I think of myself!” he says, laughing.

I remind him that students stare at him when they see him.

“It probably helps having a head of white hair!” he says. “I don’t notice, to be honest.”

Indeed, his hair is as white as it looks in stock photos. His eyebrows arch like two mountains, even when he smiles.

He recognises the importance of his role, but downplays it.

“One person doesn’t change a university. Even when we did the most substantial change in my time, which was the Melbourne Model, huge numbers of people were involved,” he says. “[Universities are] not about one person. This isn’t a corporation. It’s actually a group, a collegial institution.”

I ask him about non-work aspects of campus life. Where’s his favourite coffee place, for example?

He says he has “small-c catholic tastes” when it comes to coffee.

“I’ve been really impressed with Standing Room. They’ve got fabulous coffee. It’s very good indeed … The queue there every morning tells me lots of people agree with me! Plush Fish is where I’ve often gone if I’m in my office.” He also lists Baretto, Bar Commercio and the Potter Café as some of his haunts.

“If I line up in a coffee shop some people will come and chat to me, and that’s actually really enjoyable. I always enjoy asking them what they’re doing and how they’re finding it,” he says.

“You hear the good and the bad, and that’s also great, you get it unfiltered. That’s always very interesting.”

But he’s nonchalant when faced with criticism: “[I] occasionally get shouted at but that’s okay.”

Recent weeks have seen an uproar of student protests against the government and executive members of the university – with Professor Davis in the firing line.
He has said he protested against the Fraser government’s cuts to higher education, and he laughs when I remind him about it. “I hope they’re more successful than I was,” he tells me.

He says he “absolutely” takes time to respond to student activists heckling him on campus.

“People have done that in the last few days. On the other hand if I’m walking to a meeting, I’ve actually got to get to the meeting I’m walking to,” he trails off, gesturing to his watch.

“Lots of people ask for meetings and I’m always embarrassed if I have to say no,” he says. “There’s just more demand than there is time, so often I have to ask if somebody else can meet with them.”

He talks about other ways students can express issues they might be having. He lists student organisations such as the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), Faculty Consultative Communities (each faculty at the university has one), reading or writing for the student magazine, and emailing the university executives.

“It’s not like there isn’t a pretty continuous conversation—on all sorts of different levels in different ways across the campus—about what’s happening, what people are doing, what they would like, what they don’t like.”