A brief history of the University of Sydney Association of Professors (USAP)

With the abolition of the University’s Professorial Board, the Vice-Chancellor in 1975, Professor Bruce Williams, supported the establishment and constitution of an association which would enable professors to fulfil collectively their special roles and responsibilities in the University of Sydney (1). USAP was approved by Senate (2) and forms an integral part of the University.

Appointment or promotion to the position of Professor in the University of Sydney is based on the criteria that the incumbent will have a distinguished track record and international recognition for their research and scholarship. The traditional expectation is that Professors in the University, as experienced academics, should also provide leadership, individually and collectively, to promote the University’s values and help achieve its aspirations for scholarship and community engagement. A professorial position can therefore be seen as distinct from those of other academic staff, through involvement in academic leadership, mentoring, curriculum review and development, assisting the University in its development work, and contributing to public debate and collegial life inside and outside the University.

Over the past 50 years many changes have occurred in the University of Sydney, and in the Higher Education system more generally, that have affected how professors are able to meet these expectations. These changes include

  • the large increase in number and diversity of professorial positions,

  • the professorial position becoming the career expectation for promotion, and 
  • universities taking on more corporate-style organizational models.

As a result, there has been a gradual disappearance of recognition of professors as leaders in the University’s academic community and an increasing association of the title “professor” with just another level of staff appointment. Increasingly, professors are choosing to focus mostly on achieving research excellence in their specific field to the detriment of making a broader contribution. Some professors still seek to fulfil broader leadership roles within and beyond their discipline area, but many others are not afforded such opportunities in modern management structures, which limits their ability to use the full potential of their appointment for the benefit of the University.

Importantly, the number of professors on the Academic Board which replaced the Professorial Board in 1975 and which used to be a key instrument of academic governance has dwindled to become a minority. In addition, only very few current members were not promoted or selected by management.

It appears safe to say that the role of USAP has never been more important for the University than in the years ahead of its 50th anniversary.


1. Constitution of the University of Sydney Association of Professors

2.  Horne, Julia; Garton, Stephen. Preserving the Past: The University of Sydney and the Unified National System of Higher Education, 1987–96 . MUP Academic Digital. Kindle Edition.