Professor Rob Whelan

Emeritus Professor

Presentation delivered by Professor John Patterson, Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Wollongong on the occasion at the admission of Robert John Whelan as an Emeritus Professor of the University on 23 July 2014.

Deputy Chancellor, I present Rob Whelan.

CS Lewis once said that the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. By this measure, as a researcher and an educator, Rob Whelan’s passion, leadership and brilliance has veritably flooded the Simpson Desert, allowing new growth and new ideas to flourish and blossom.
Born in London, Rob’s family immigrated to Australia when he was five and settled in Adelaide. His Father instilled a love of education in Rob’s life, through the philosophy that “he who learns from one occupied in learning, drinks of a running stream” which fuelled Rob’s commitment to ongoing learning throughout his career. Following completion of a BSc (Honours) in Biological Sciences in 1974 at Flinders University and a PhD through the University of Western Australia in 1978, it was clear that Rob had embarked upon a lifelong journey as an innovative and dedicated researcher.
Rob pursued his burgeoning appetite for ecology and conservation biology through postdoctoral studies with the University College of North Wales from 1978-1979, which, amongst other things, included working on slugs, before accepting the first Archie Carr Postdoctoral Fellowship in Zoology at the University of Florida in 1980. Rob’s distinguished career with the University of Wollongong began in 1982 when he joined the University as a Lecturer in Biology, a move that the University and countless students remain grateful for. Despite his youth, Rob took great pride in rising to the challenge of meeting the responsibilities normally reserved for more experienced older academics, to the acclaim of his peers.
Rob was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1985 and to Associate Professor in 1989, whilst also being awarded a Fulbright Senior Award in 1988. As Head of the School of Biological Sciences from 1993-2002 and then Dean of Science from 2002-2008, he contributed significantly to the University’s growth and success in areas of research, curriculum and governance through his inclusive way of working, enthusiasm, irreverent sense of humour and outstanding leadership across disciplines.
Rob’s research interests have increased our knowledge of the Australian environment, from the sex lives of the Banksia and Waratah to his seminal research on bushfire ecology, resulting in a major research monograph, The Ecology of Fire. Rob’s excellent national and international reputation has been cemented by extensive scientific publications, involvement in a multitude of professional societies, numerous research grants and through the supervision of over 40 Masters and PhD research students over his long and illustrious career.
Rob has consistently demonstrated the ability to influence policy and law, serving on a range of Australian State and Federal Government committees. More recently, Rob undertook the challenging role of President of the University of Wollongong in Dubai from 2008-2011, continuing his commitment to academic excellence by introducing research programs and building cohesive organisational structures. Rob is now providing his leadership skills and creative experience as Deputy Provost at the United Arab Emirates University.
A man of the utmost integrity and a natural, well-respected, and energetic leader, it is a difficult task to attempt to quantify the immense value that Rob has contributed across a variety of spheres over the course of his life. For his service and dedication to this University and his outstanding contribution to biological sciences, it is a privilege and pleasure to present Rob Whelan for admission as an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wollongong.