Life of a campus dean

Canberra Campus Dean Patrick McArdle feels lucky to have worked on several ACU campuses during his career, experiencing the collegiality and ‘local flavour’ of each.  Here he talks about how the diversity of our staff and of our relationships with the Church has shaped ACU’s identity over the last 25 years.  From tentative early years, to becoming one of the largest Catholic universities in the English-speaking world, our contribution to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition lives on in a continuing conversation, he says.

Patrick's Story

Campus Dean of ACU’s Canberra campus, Associate Professor Patrick McArdle, joined ACU in 1996 to take up a contract position as a Lecturer in Ethics on our Sydney campuses. In the years since, he has moved into a number of roles with ACU and has taught Ethics or Theology in classrooms on five of ACU’s seven campuses.  In this time he also completed his PhD in Practical Theology and has served in several management roles before becoming the Canberra Campus Dean in 2009.

“There have been lots of interesting changes as we’ve moved from a University that was somewhat precarious in its early years, which has now grown to have over 30,000 students, seven campuses and a new residential Centre in Rome, a joint venture created with the Catholic University of America,” Patrick said.

He says it is seeing how the University’s mission is brought to life at the local level through interpersonal relationships on campus that causes both students and staff to stay.

“We’re popular at ACU. People often say ‘there’s something special (about my local campus) that made me stay here, that made me want to go the extra mile. And you meet people who have become the soul of the place,” he said.

“The campuses have their own personalities: Melbourne campus has a vibrancy that you can feel. In Canberra, it’s an incredibly welcoming place - when I fronted up for an interview, I had three people walk past and offer me water, coffee… even though they probably had no idea what I was doing there.  Brisbane campus is very hospitable when you visit, people want to know if you’re staying, and for how long, and want to catch up with you for a meal.  And bizarrely, given the growth and changes that have taken place, Strathfield campus seems to have still preserved the same close community feel and personality that it had back in the early 90’s.”

Part of Patrick’s role involves representing the Vice-Chancellor in the local community - a role he shares with the other ACU Campus Deans and Associate Vice-Chancellors in other locations.

“Although this representational role is the same for each of us, it manifests itself utterly differently.  For me, the role is somewhat unique in that I have the seat of national Government and the diplomatic corps located in my area.  I serve on a lot of government committees. I also spend a lot of time attending embassy events which mark national days - particularly for the Catholic countries, it’s important to be involved.”

Patrick says it wasn’t until he became Campus Dean that I released how lucky he was to have such a wide sense of ACU nationally.
“I also have a staff morale and liaison role, and one of the things I take very seriously is trying to give people on Canberra campus a sense that we are a national university, and understanding the value of each individual’s contribution to ACU.”

“The Catholic identity of the ACU community also has distinct local flavours at each of our locations, because the Church is like that also. For example, Ballarat campus is quite self-contained. It’s located a stone’s throw from the cathedral and the University has always had an integral role in the diocese. Especially in regards to our teaching students, because most of our graduates can get jobs in Ballarat diocese or close to it, and that creates a sense of intimacy.”

“By contrast, the five dioceses in QLD have always functioned collegially, so while ACU sees its primary Church relationship as being with the Archbishop of Brisbane, the Archbishop will often consult with the other four bishops.  An example of this joint approach was particularly evident when the ACU Brisbane campus moved to its Banyo location in 2003, because the property was a provincial seminary, jointly owned by the five dioceses.”

He says people are also really attracted to ACU by the commitment of the staff and their focus on the University’s mission - the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good.

“For most of us, there is no doubt who we work for – we work for the students,” he said.

“If you talk to our students, they will say that they come to ACU because they want to make a difference.  And I’ll say to them:  sometimes you won’t always know you have made a difference, sometimes it’s the little things.  For example, if you become a teacher, you won’t know that it was the shy introverted kid that you made feel so welcome that it empowered them to go on and achieve great things in their field 25 years later.  If you’re in nursing, you won’t necessarily know that in tending to someone on their deathbed, you’ve made them feel that someone finally cares about them.   But these can be the things that make a significant difference.”

Diversity in our University

Patrick says the ACU community has become increasingly diverse over time, with our staff and students being from a variety of cultural and faith backgrounds.
“In 2014 ACU was the fastest-growing university in Australia.   As a growing university you actually need this diversity, and you have to have a sense that there is a place in this for everybody.  We believe all staff have a part to play in the continuing story of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, and the way it brings a distinct perspective to higher education.”

Fittingly, ACU celebrated its 25th Anniversary this year by hosting the 25th General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, which brought 500 delegates from over 40 countries.

“ACU also hosted the five-yearly meeting of world’s Jesuit Universities.  These events, together with the new centre in Rome, are signs of ACU’s stronger role within international Church communities,” Patrick said.

“We were also visited by Father Greg Kalscheur SJ, the Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences at Boston College, a Jesuit University in the US.   He hosted seminars on the topic of ‘Catholic Intellectual Tradition in Higher Education,’ enabling ACU staff to discuss and share their thoughts on how the tradition is brought to life at the University.”

“In listening to Fr Greg Kalscheur ask ‘How can we embody the Catholic Mission in the heart of the intellectual life of the University?’ and hearing his views and staff views, I felt affirmed that the ongoing engagement with the Catholic Intellectual Tradition lives in open-ended conversation, and in building relationships with people.”

A recording of Fr Kalscheur’s talk is available for download or streaming here: Part 1 talk starts at 08:10, and Part 2 starts at 06:45.

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