University of Newcastle students have rallied behind Professor Jennifer Martin who quit the institution's governing body in protest over the appointment of former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile as the next chancellor.
Mr Vaile, who served as Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister from 2005 to 2007, is chairman of Whitehaven Coal and holds other board positions.
Many consider his links to the fossil fuel industry to be at odds with the university's strategic direction, which has been focused on sustainability and clean energy options in recent years.
- Professor Jennifer Martin resigns from the University of Newcastle's council in protest at former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile's appointment as chancellor
- Professor Jennifer Martin has been inundated with support after resigning from the University of Newcastle council following Mark Vaile's appointment as chancellor
Students' Association president Luka Harrison said students had applauded Professor Martin for taking a principled stance.
"The students that I have talked to have been very supportive of Professor Martin's resignation," he said.
"She is standing her ground and standing up for what she believes in and I think a lot of students identify with what she is standing for as well."
A mass meeting of students planned for next week will discuss protest options.
"All of the feedback that I have received has indicated that the students who have heard about it are unhappy with the appointment and the students association also opposes it," Mr Harrison said.
The university, which has committed to being carbon neutral by 2025, became the first university in Australia to procure a 100 per cent renewable energy contract in late 2018.
It has also induced a number of high profile sustainability initiatives at its campuses and is a world leader in renewable energy research.
"To be appointing someone who is huge supporter of fossil fuels seems completely against everything that the university stands for," Mr Harrison said.
"The Howard Government also gutted higher education and the student movement in Australia.
"Appointing anyone who was associated with that government almost reads like an endorsement of those policies."
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Mr Vaile is due to take over from incumbent chancellor Paul Jeans on July 1.
The university has defended Mr Vaile's appointment.
"The process for appointing our chancellor is long established and was last reviewed in 2016. The process was followed by a chancellor selection committee chaired by the deputy chancellor," Incumbent chancellor Paul Jeans said on Monday.
"All council members voted in favour of the appointment. All council members were given the opportunity to meet the preferred candidate.
"Council looks forward to working with Mr Vaile when he starts in July. Our council members are passionate about the university and the opportunity to strengthen its role in this region and beyond."
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