The University of Newcastle's sustainability credentials are the envy of Australia's higher education sector.
Highlights in recent years include becoming the first Australian university to procure a 100 per cent renewable energy contract in 2018. Water conservation measures have meant the institution's potable water usage has remained stable despite significant growth. These and other initiatives have meant the university is well on track to becoming carbon neutral by 2025.
But many believe the university's ability to build on these impressive achievements will be impeded following the appointment of former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile as the new chancellor.
While Mr Vaile's political and corporate CVs are impressive, it is his chairmanship of Whitehaven Coal which has become the singular focus of his appointment.
While Mr Vaile has stated that he is fully committed to the university's strategic goals, others believe his links to the fossil fuel industry are incompatible with the university's vision for the future.
On Friday, Laureate Professor Nick Talley expressed concern that the future of the university could be adversely affected by Mr Vaile's appointment.
It should be recognised that others do not share these views. Some Newcastle Herald letter writers have argued the university is lucky to have a person of Mr Vaile's standing as its chancellor and his corporate associations will be of great assistance in the role.
Others have welcomed having a person from a conservative political background as the university's figurehead because, they argue, the institution has drifted too far to the left.
When universities are at their healthiest they help facilitate and support the robust contest of ideas. The debate which has engulfed the university is an extension of a broader debate within the global community about how to respond to climate change.
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We rely on our universities to develop solutions to real-world problems and at present there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change.
The University of Newcastle has been a world-leader in health and scientific breakthroughs since its foundation.
Many Hunter residents will be looking to the university to continue this legacy, particularly in the area of sustainability.
In order to achieve this the institution must have sound leadership and governance that is committed to continuing the university's proud tradition.
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