Sir Philip Baxter

KBE, CMG

As the University’s first Vice-Chancellor the name of Philip Baxter resonates all over the campus. His interest in student welfare is commemorated in a particular way by the naming of a residential college, Baxter College, after him. It was an honour he prized as much as any of the many honours he received.

Much has been written of his achievements but on this occasion we focus on his work in one aspect of student welfare – the establishment of this International House. It was a small project when viewed as part of a huge campus development involving multi-story laboratory buildings but to Baxter it was an enormously important one – a project worthy of his personal effort. It was much more than just another building. His vision of a large enrolment of overseas students was ahead of its time. His appreciation of the social, political and economic consequences of having a large international student body was profound.

He took a personal and detailed interest in the design of the building. His original concept was of an international students’ centre which in its first stage would have only 45 bedrooms but would have excellent facilities as a meeting centre for all overseas students attending the University. A second stage would increase the residential accommodation to 300 bedrooms. He outlined these ideas on the design of the college and some aspects of its management at the first meeting of the company held on 2nd December 1964. Preliminary plans were drawn up along these lines.

The Australian Universities Commission did not favour this concept but agreed that Professor Baxter should discuss the matter directly with the Minister for Education, Senator Gorton. He did so in Canberra on 24th August, 1965. There was a lively but amicable discussion in which the Minister supported the Commission which wanted a purely residential college of 120 bedrooms. Before the day was out, with typical Baxterian energy in reaction to a setback, the Vice-Chancellor wrote a report to the University Council not only reporting the Ministerial decision and recommending the immediate start on a design for 120 bedrooms but also setting out numerous architectural features he wished to see in the revised design.

On 26th October 1964, a limited company, the University of New South Wales International House Ltd, was incorporated. The company had six directors and, indicative of his continuing personal interest in the new residential college, Professor Baxter was one of them. He became the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors and missed a meeting only in exceptional circumstances.

He served on the Board until his retirement in 1969 when he and Lady Baxter became ordinary members of the company. They came to company meetings and several functions like International Nights right until health problems intervened.

We owe Sir Philip Baxter a debt of gratitude which will always be acknowledged by the award, posthumously, of Fellowship of International House.