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R. G. Menzies Scholarships to Harvard 1968—2010

*James Fox copy.jpg

Introduction; Professor James J. Fox

For the past three decades, it has been an honour for me to chair the R.G. Menzies Scholarship Selection Committee. I first became involved with the Committee soon after I took up my appointment at the ANU in 1975. I had come from teaching at Harvard and was considered to know something of the place, so initially I was made one of the university’s three delegates to the Selection Committee. In 1979, however, I was appointed Chair and, with only a few interruptions when I was on study leave, I continued to chair the Committee until 2010.

When James Wolfensohn conceived of the idea of creating a scholarship to Harvard and organised the support of the Harvard Club to finance it, he was determined to see more Australians study at Harvard. He realised that a scholarship that would send bright Australian students to Harvard would allow them to flourish—at Harvard and in their subsequent careers. This is exactly what has happened: the Menzies scholarship has achieved its goal. The first award of the Scholarship was in 1968 and an award or awards have been made in every year save one, since that time. At present, some sixty-three Australians have benefited from Wolfensohn’s vision.

From the outset, there was the idea that Menzies scholars would return to Australia after their time in the United States and provide a distinctive leadership. Selection criteria for the Scholarship emphasise leadership qualities, community commitment as well as academic excellence. Those of us associated with the Scholarship have long recognised the value that the Scholarship has provided. What was needed, however, is some record of what has been achieved. This volume is thus long overdue. It is the first of its kind—and, I am sure, will not be the last—to give an opportunity to a group of Menzies scholars to write about their experiences.

To have been part of this process has been a rare privilege. Reading through dozens of applications each year continually reassured me of the academic qualities, notable aspirations and moral commitment of successive generations of Australian university graduates.

Each year the difficult task has been to come up with a proper shortlist. For this task, I have always been able to rely on an exceptional group of Committee members. Just as the candidates for the scholarship are invariably impressive, so too is the Committee that assembles every year to carry out the interviews and make the final selection.

The Committee is made up of representatives of the Harvard Club and the Menzies Foundation together with three members from the ANU, usually from different academic fields. Over the years, this membership has continually changed. As a result, I estimate at least seventy members of the Harvard Club—a formidable establishment of intellect and energy—have taken part in the selection process. They could be counted on to sharpen the Committee’s assessments, but it was also good to have an equally formidable group of university colleagues to probe and temper our discussions.

When I began as Chair, I was fortunate to have as the representative of the Menzies Foundation, Sir John Bunting, who would subtly guide the Committee. As a junior academic, it was an enormous advantage to have someone like Sir John, who had served as Cabinet secretary to Menzies, to help lead us to a consensus: it was almost as if Sir Robert himself was involved in choosing the Menzies scholar. What I managed to learn about chairing the Committee came from Sir John. For several years now, Edwina Menzies has represented the Foundation, so the Menzies aura has continued in the selection process.

Over the years, the strongest support for the whole selection process has been carried out mostly behind the scenes by able ANU staff in the Chancelry. Karen Holt has done this work for the Menzies scholarship for more than ten years and before her, Jane Sutton served as secretary to the Committee.

Gradually, over time, the University was able to appoint former Menzies scholars as its representatives. Glenn Withers was the first of these appointees. Then came Hilary Charlesworth, Anne Pender and eventually Kim Rubenstein. When I went off to Harvard in 2006-07, I thought I had passed the Chair to Glenn Withers but he subsequently left the ANU, and I resumed the Chair for another three years. Now, however, I have definitely stepped down and I am delighted that the Chair will be in Kim Rubenstein’s capable hands. May she continue for as long as I have and enjoy the position as much as I have.

Professor James J. Fox

Chair, Menzies Selection Committee 1979-2010

Professor Emeritus, Resource Management in Asia Pacific Program, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.


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