The University Medal has traditionally been the most prestigious award we’ve bestowed upon our undergraduate students. Beyond its academic importance, this is an honour that carries with it great cultural significance in Australian society. Some might say that it is not simply an award; it is a cultural icon for which we carry the responsibility of custodianship.
In the past, following the common practice of Australian Universities, Macquarie has restricted the award of the University Medal to Honours students and we have awarded it in recognition of academic excellence throughout their studies. However, following the retirement of most of our Honours programs the University Medal has been orphaned, and we need to consider its place anew.
As an initial position one might suggest that, since the Master of Research (MRes) has replaced Honours as our standard pathway to research, it would be natural that the University Medal should become an award for excellence in the MRes. However, it is my view that this position fails to recognise that our Honours programs were not just pathways to research. In the broader Australian community the term Honours is also recognised as an indicator of general academic excellence, rather than of research specific prowess. Consequently, over the years many students who never saw themselves as taking a research pathway have taken Honours, as a mark of excellence, and have been awarded the University Medal.
One might also observe that our new strategic framework, as articulated in the “Our University: A Framing of Futures” statement, places the notion that Macquarie is a University of “service and engagement” at the very core of our value system. So we might ask if this is an aspect of our identity that should be clearly demonstrated by all of our medallists, whether through a formal PACE activity or in terms of their informal engagement with their community? More generally, are there other aspects of the achievement of our students that should join pure academic merit as a factor in determining who should be awarded a medal? Might we even consider introducing a separate medal class to celebrate some of these broader achievements?
Macquarie now has a unique opportunity to revisit the eligibility and conditions for the award of the University Medal. At this point in the discussion, all reasonable options should be considered whilst being careful to preserve the prestigious nature of this award. Questions for consideration include:
• Who is a ‘deserving’ student and what will they have achieved?
• What programs should be eligible for the University Medal? How broadly should the net be cast?
• Should the University Medal also take into account extracurricular activities, publications, community engagement and other qualities? Perhaps something similar to those required by UC Berkeley?
• Should the University Medal also reflect our core institutional values or remain purely in recognition of overall academic excellence? For example, should different classes of University Medals be awarded for community engagement and partnerships, research frontiers, and different program types?
• Who should provide what evidence of excellence, and how will it be assessed?
• What is the relationship between the Vice-Chancellor’s Commendations for Academic Excellence and the University Medal?
Have your say by completing a brief survey that has been designed to canvas your thoughts on these preliminary questions. To contribute further thoughts or ideas, please contact the Chair of Academic Senate email@example.com .