Honorary Doctorate for Professor Michael McRobbie AO

Professor Michael McRobbie in his office

An internationally respected computer scientist and university leader who grew up on the Gold Coast will receive an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University tomorrow (July 25).

Professor Michael McRobbie AO is the President of Indiana University (IU), one of the largest universities in the United States and a member of the elite Association of American Universities (AAU).

The Honourable Ms Leneen Forde AC DUniv, Chancellor, Griffith University, will confer the degree of Doctor of the University upon Professor McRobbie at a ceremony on the Gold Coast.

The honour is especially fitting given it coincides with the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Internet in Australia and occurs as Griffith University continues to expand its tertiary and community presence and influence.

Professor McRobbie spent his formative years on the Gold Coast in the 1950s and ’60s, an era when the prospect of the beachside resort having its own university seemed as likely as snow in summer.

Today, however, tertiary education is a vital component of Australia’s fastest growing city and region.

Tertiary presence

“For a city like the Gold Coast, a tertiary presence is absolutely essential and I have nothing but praise for the way Griffith University has shifted its centre of gravity to the Gold Coast,” says Professor McRobbie.

“Also, the fact that Griffith is located within a growing Health and Knowledge Precinct has enormous potential for the ongoing high quality of education, research and collaboration.

“It’s certainly a vastly different city to when I was a boy.”

Born in Melbourne in 1950, Professor McRobbie lived on the Gold Coast from 1956-67, attending Surfers Paradise State School and Miami State High School.

“It was a wonderful outdoors lifestyle with lots of sport and play. I surfed, the sun was always shining, the Gold Coast was young and so were my friends and I,” he says.

“I don’t think I was ever really cold and just lately, having come through one of the harshest winters since I arrived in America almost 20 years ago, I’ve been giving plenty of thought to those younger days.”

As much as Professor McRobbie’s childhood conformed to the image of “sun, surf and sand” that helped turn the Gold Coast into Australia’s tourism capital, he acknowledges the importance of his early education.

“I received a good and solid education at Miami High and I’m proud to have been a pupil there. It helped me make the transition to university with confidence,” he says.

Enrolling at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Professor McRobbie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours in 1974 and was then awarded a PhD from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra in 1979. His subsequent research career focused on logic, automated theorem proving, artificial intelligence, supercomputing and computer networking.

“Information Technology was relatively new as a concept, but I recognised how it could become pervasive in society and particularly essential in education and research,” he says.

National leader in IT

Professor McRobbie returned to ANU in 1983 and rose to the positions of Professor of Information Science at the Institute of Advanced Study and Chief Executive Officer of the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Computational Systems. He left in 1996 and joined IU in 1997 as Vice President for Information Technology and Professor of Computer Science and of Philosophy.

Since then Professor McRobbie has played a major role in IU’s rise as a national leader in IT with innovations including the integrated high-speed I-Light network that linked IU campuses through fibre-optics.

His foresight also led to IU’s operation and management of Internet2, a high performance data network connecting all major US universities and supporting research nationwide. Internet2 also fostered high-speed connections globally.

Appointed to the additional position of IU’s Vice President for Research in 2003, Professor McRobbie helped secure millions of dollars in funding for life sciences, arts and humanities programs. In 2006 he ensured IU’s ongoing research leadership through the acquisition of an advanced supercomputer from IBM.

In 2007 he was elected IU’s 18th President, taking responsibility for eight campuses, more than 110,000 students, 7000 faculty, 11,000 staff and a budget of more than $3 billion.

Professor McRobbie holds four other honorary doctorates and is one of the few academics of Australian origin to be made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is an honorary member of the Australian Academy of Humanities and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2010.

Global engagement

As well as maintaining important roles in education, business and technology in the US, Asia and Australia, Professor McRobbie’s priority to global engagement has made IU one of America’s most international universities.

Earlier this year, the Anti Defamation League presented Professor McRobbie with their Man of Achievement award for his commitment to tolerance and equality.

After such a distinguished career, his commitment to tertiary education remains firm.

“The importance of Higher Education and the innovations it inspires have never been more important,” says Professor McRobbie.

“The mark of any country making real progress in the world will be measured in the resources it puts into Higher Education.”