Murdoch University has officially welcomed its eighth Chancellor Gail McGowan at a formal Investiture ceremony today.
It is the first time in Murdoch’s near 50-year history that a woman has held the role of Chancellor. With the appointment of renowned mathematician Professor Robyn Owens as Deputy Chancellor, the University’s Senate and chief governing body now has all female leadership.
Ms McGowan was formally installed at the Kim E Beazley Lecture Theatre by His Excellency the Honourable Chris Dawson, Governor of Western Australia, in his role as Official Visitor to the University.
Following the traditional academic ceremony, the new Chancellor shared how the path that led her to Murdoch was far from conventional.
“I was a conservatively raised farmer’s daughter actively discouraged from going to university as it was considered ‘a waste’ for a girl,” Ms McGowan said.
Instead, like her two sisters, she was educated to year 12 level and joined the public sector which was seen as an “honourable career for a girl”. Ms McGowan enjoyed her employment but longed for a university qualification so in 1987 - more than a decade after graduating high school and with three young children in tow – she applied to Murdoch.
Murdoch welcomed and embraced that young mum and found her a pathway to the future.
A Bachelor of Arts in Education Studies followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Policy enabled Ms McGowan to pursue a career that included more than 14 years as a senior executive in the WA Government, including eight years as a Director General.
She received a Public Service Medal in 2019 and that same year was named a Murdoch University Distinguished Alumni. In 2021 Ms McGowan was the Institute of Public Administration of Australia WA Leader of the Year. She has also served in senior roles at Murdoch including Chair of the University’s School of Business and Governance.
Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Professor Andrew Deeks paid tribute to outgoing Chancellor Gary Smith and Deputy Chancellor Ross Holt, thanking them for their service to Murdoch and noting in particular Mr Smith’s commitment to reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Professor Deeks said he could not be more delighted that it was Ms McGowan making Murdoch history as the University’s first female Chancellor.
“Quite simply, Gail McGowan embodies many of our foundational values – values that Murdoch is reimagining through a new Strategy,” he said.
“From a small country town, Gail was the first in her family to attend university . . . and now she is our Chancellor.”
Professor Deeks said Ms McGowan’s experiences resonated with Murdoch’s core values and new strategy Ngala Kwop Biddi: Building a brighter future, together which focuses on three key themes: Sustainability; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and First Nations.
“Over the life of the strategy, we will pursue our vision to be recognised as the University of choice for people who care, who value inclusion, curiosity and innovation, and who desire to make a positive social impact,” Professor Deeks said.
“Our new Chancellor embodies all these attributes and so I can say with confidence that Gail McGowan is very much the right Chancellor at the right time for Murdoch.”
Ms McGowan drew parallels between the name of Murdoch’s new academic building Boola Katitjin, which in Noongar language means ‘lots of learning’, saying it was not only in the interests of the State and nation to embrace that value and concept, but also the right thing to do that will help to build a brighter future, together.
“Over three decades ago, Murdoch University afforded me an opportunity,” she said. “In taking on the role of Chancellor of this special place, I would like to repay that faith.”
Learn more about our new strategy, Building a Brighter Future, Together. Ngala Kwop Biddi.