The 47th Annual Academy Lecture

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The 47th Annual Academy Lecture was given by our current President, Professor John Fitzgerald FAHA on Academic Freedom and the Contemporary University — Lessons from China. It was held in Melbourne on 15 November 2016 as part of the 47th Annual Symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Asia Australia: Transnational Connections.

An edited version of the Lecture is available and will feature in the forthcoming Academy publication, Humanities Australia No. 8.

In the Lecture, Professor Fitzgerald asks ‘are mediaeval notions of academic freedom relevant in the contemporary university?’ The inherited Western ideal of the solitary mendicant scholar, free to roam without interference and speak truth to the prince at court, sits uneasily alongside the immense resources invested in contemporary universities charged with driving global innovation, industry, and business.  Professor Fitzgerald argues that although the challenges to freedom are more diffuse, the Western academy’s commitment to free and open critical inquiry in the humanities, arts and sciences is no less important today than it was in the mid-12th century when the Constitutio Habita was drafted in Bologna.  These values are thrown into sharp relief by the rapid rise of China and the growing impact of an academic model in which freedom plays little part. What are the lessons for the humanities in Australia?

Download the Lecture here


Professor John Fitzgerald FAHA is President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is the Truby and Florence Williams Chair of Social Investment and Philanthropy at Swinburne University of Technology where he directs the Program for Asia-Pacific Social Investment and Philanthropy, and is Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne.

Previously, Professor Fitzgerald served five years as Representative of The Ford Foundation in Beijing where he directed the Foundation’s China operations; as Head of the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University; and directed the International Centre of Excellence in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. He has served as Chair of the Education Committee of the Australia-China Council of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as chair of the Committee for National and International Cooperation of the Australian Research Council, and as International Secretary of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. His research focuses on territorial government and civil society in China and on Australia’s Asian diasporas.