Gail McGowan, a nationally recognised public sector and policy leader, will become Murdoch University’s eighth Chancellor from 17 May, replacing Gary Smith. She will be the first woman to hold the position in the University’s almost 50-year history.
In announcing the appointment today, Mr Smith said Ms McGowan had made a significant contribution to Australian public life over many decades. She was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding service to Western Australia in 2019 and named Leader of the Year in State or Federal Government at the Institute of Public Administration (WA) Awards in 2021.
“Gail was the inaugural Director-General of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and remains highly active in the community as Chair of the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and Director of Foundation Housing,” Mr Smith said.
“Gail is also a Murdoch alumnus who embodies many of our University’s foundational values. From a small country town, she was first in her family to attend university, and she enrolled at Murdoch as a mature student – the mother of three young children at the time.
“She is an example of the transformative power of education and the importance of providing inclusive, diverse and equitable environments for learning which encourages success and advances society.”
Ms McGowan said she was delighted to accept the role of Chancellor, having sat on the University’s Senate since April 2022.
“Murdoch being known as a progressive university, the time is definitely right and probably overdue for a woman to hold the position of Chancellor,” she said. “Having said that, my focus is on the contribution I can make. I like people, I like connecting people, and I like connecting opportunities so that’s more important to me than necessarily being the ‘first of’.”
Ms McGowan said the State Government’s recent announcement of a review into WA universities was an opportunity to reaffirm Murdoch’s strengths, while also contributing to an important conversation about how WA universities could best serve the community and build new “continuums of opportunity”.
Murdoch Vice Chancellor Professor Andrew Deeks said he looked forward to working with the new Chancellor and Senate to embed the University’s new Strategy – Building a brighter future, together: Ngala Kwop Biddi – with its focus on the three key themes of Sustainability; Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; and First Nations.
“Our new Strategy will shape the Murdoch University of the future – a caring, inclusive and innovative institution focused on creating a sustainable world through our learning, teaching and research,” he said. “Our new Chancellor embodies these characteristics through her own experiences in higher education and distinguished career of public service.”
Professor Deeks also praised Gary Smith and thanked him for his contributions to Murdoch since his investiture in 2019, saying he had driven important governance reforms and elevated the University’s discourse on, and commitment to, First Nations people.