One day in 1977 a few students, of the School of Mathematics and Physics, gathered at the courtyard of building E7B to discuss the academic structure of Macquarie University and the implications of such structure for those who decided to follow a scientific career. A predominant original thought among those present was that although someone could complete an ultra rigorous scientific program, allowed by the Macquarie system, at graduation there would be no differentiation with students who elected a liberal path of education. This was a consequence of the Oxbridge tradition adopted by the founders of the university. A tradition that according to those gathered was not relevant to the Australian market place where science graduates were expected to have science degrees. Hence, the group decided to pursue the quest for a BSc degree.
The student movement was organized into STUDENTS FOR A SCIENCE DEGREE (SSD). The chairman of SSD was Frank Duarte and the leadership included Milan Brandt, Michael Golding, and Brian Bulliman. Macquarie political student leaders that supported the science campaign included Mary de Andrade, Joe Moore, Steve Pringle, Geoff Provest, Steve Magee, and Carlos Sorentino.
Beyond the issue of the name of the degree it was understood early in the movement† that such a change in the degree structure would have a significant and profound effect in the future direction of Macquarie University. Indeed, it was apparent to the strategists that Macquarie needed such change in order to enhance its science student population and to augment its scientific reputation in the community. Thus, this incipient student movement soon gained the strong support of leading academics within the sciences. Among the professors supporting the science movement were J. C. Ward, R. E.Aitchison, R. E. B. Makinson, F. Chong, E. Laisk, J. Hawke, B. Gray, and R. H. Vernon.
Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie, at the time, was Emeritus Professor E. C. Webb who played the role of a "talented politician" and whose position on the issue was not made explicit at least in the eyes of the public. Such open ambiguity was welcome by SSD and its supporters.
The BSc campaign lasted about two intense years and was described in an article in The Bulletin as a "nasty, bitter, bureaucratic struggle." Besides the bureaucratic struggle within the Macquarie academic system, the confrontation involved a direct, pervasive, and effective student campaign that included the participation in university wide elections, and the achievement of victory in these elections in association with the Moderate Student Alliance (MSA), the consultation with federal government ministers, Sir John Carrick in particular (facilitated by our brilliant legal counsel Geoffrey B. Ferrow, QC), the support of professional institutions (such as the Australian Institute of Physics , where Arthur Pryor played an important role), and a well coordinated publicity campaign.
On the 11th of September of 1979 the Academic Senate of Macquarie University approved the introduction of the BSc degree thus for ever changing the destiny of the university.
In retrospect, it is fair to say that, the confrontation of ideas that led to the introduction of the BSc yielded a more versatile and stronger Macquarie University. Further, it enhanced the career opportunities for a significant fraction of the student population. In this regard, this might be a singular world-wide example of a successful, practical, and lasting contribution exerted by student political action.
Much of the history of the BSc campaign was documented in Arena in the 1977-1980 period. In addition to the issue at hand, these articles provide a rare perspective into the realm of student and university politics of the times.
Fast forward: in addition to the hard fought BSc... today (2023) Macquarie University offers an extensive plethora of named degrees... in a variety of fields.
Note: the contacts and interaction with the Australian Federal Government of the time, via Sir John Carrick, also resulted in significant benefits for Macquarie.
† Also known as the Macquarie Science Reform Movement.
Original colours of Macquarie University
Original seal of Macquarie University
Original BSc poster used by SSD during the sciences revolt
Front page of the Northern District times, 9th of November, 1977
F. J. Duarte, around 1979
Page published on 13th of April, 1998
Page updated on the 9th of August, 2023