James W. Guthrie, Network University Mentor

Professor James W. Guthrie

 Professor of Education (University of California Berkeley and Vanderbilt University), Senior fellow and Director of Education Policy Studies, George W. Bush Institute, Dallas, Texas (2010); UWS Consultant on the Network University Model (1989).

When it became clear that the University of Western Sydney would emerge as a network institution rather than as a traditional university form, the Heads of Nepean (Maling) and Hawkesbury (Swain) began to look around for models. Maling had studied at Stanford University, where she had met her husband Bruce Keepes. Bruce was a contemporary and friend of James Guthrie through their postgraduate years, and proposed Guthrie (then teaching at the University of California Berkeley) as someone who could help advise the network members on how a network university ran. “They don’t know how to do it,” Keepes told Guthrie by phone. “They would like you to come down and be a consultant and show them how to do it.” (At the time, Keepes was with the Faculty of Education at the University of Sydney). Guthrie had an extensive profile in advising on international educational reform, but had never been to Australia. In the period 1988-1991, for example, he published on the effects of global interdependence and politics on government investments in education and education research, and on the reform of education programs in universities (Guthrie and Pierce 1991; Guthrie, 1991a, 1991b, Clifford and Guthrie 1988). His book with Garms and Pierce on Education Finance and Policy: Enhancing Education Equality, Efficiency, and Liberty, touched on many of the issues which faced the emerging UWS, and his work in providing expert testimony for American policy-making institutions (including the US Senate) made him well-aware of the political dimensions which gave birth to educational systems.

In the United States on a business trip, Sir Ian Turbott visited Guthrie at Berkeley, and invited him to come to Australia at some time shortly after the University of Western Sydney was formed: “the purpose of the visit was to provide the opportunity for detailed discussion of the development of a federated university of international standing, rather than the traditional Australian approach to a ‘unitary’ one”. (‘Network Chief Executive Officer and Council Report’, 20 March 1989, p. 3, 03/00074, UWS Archives.) In February-March 1989,  Guthrie spent six weeks touring the newly combined UWS campuses. They were not overly impressive: Nepean he thought of as a teachers college, Hawkesbury had yet to shed its agricultural college persona, and Macarthur (which was not yet a member) seemed to operate in the niche filled by US Community Colleges. Touring the dairy operations at Hawkesbury, it struck him that ‘there wasn’t a piece of modern equipment there.’ Clearly the perception depended on one’s starting point: while Guthrie’s University of California (UC) system had many members which had similar institutional backgrounds to the Colleges of Advanced Education (CAE), it was already a world leader in many types of research, with a number of noble laureates on staff and with vast funding and political influence.

When Swain visited California on his last sabbatical with UWS in 1993, for example, he saw in action the alumni networks and fundraising machine which enabled UC to raise in donations, in a single year, more than the University of Western Sydney had been given in recurrent funding and capital grants over its first triennium (Swain 2011). On the upside, Guthrie saw that there was considerable pent-up demand: ‘The University of Sydney was too precious… I just couldn’t see the University of Sydney unbending sufficiently to meet what I knew was going to be a huge demand for college. I knew that demand was there, but I couldn’t see that it was going to be fulfilled without something like what we were trying to cobble together.’ (Guthrie, 2011) Moreover, within his own lifetime, Guthrie had seen universities in California (such as Stanford, from which he graduated in 1958 ‘when it was by no means a major university’) emerge from relative obscurity to becoming some of the most prestigious names in the university world. UC Davis had been, like Hawkesbury, a relatively small agricultural college. At Stanford, J E Wallace Stirling had built the university by paying careful attention to talent and staff appointments, and by seeking the appropriate resources. ‘I knew it could be done.’ (Guthrie 2011.)

While acting as an ambassador without portfolio, ‘more of a politician than anything else’, Guthrie felt that he was really acting in the role of promoter and change manager, meeting staff members, UWS Board members, members of the Office of Higher Education, among others. Staying with Jill Maling and Bruce Keepes, he travelled around campuses, ran seminars and contributed actively to the Board’s first planning retreat, making proposals for the network university which were later incorporated into its plans. Perhaps it was this role which made him sensitive to opposition to Swain and Maling’s plans. The University of Sydney delegates to the Board, for example, did not seem to him to be overly enthusiastic about the program. Perhaps Ward retained reservations about the quality levels which could be achieved through the upgrading of CAEs, or perhaps he was frustrated by the political nature of the process. Guthrie came away with the impression that Ward ‘didn’t want [UWS] to happen… he was so full of disdain that he could barely tolerate talking to me about it. His views were somewhat justified. We were cobbling together such an unlikely mixture with such low standards at the time, that I would go to bed at night thinking “Gee, I wonder if this is really a good idea.”‘ (Guthrie 2011.) None of the members had a high-quality faculty, and research was at a comparatively low ebb. Swain, however, struck him as the most “remarkably able” of the institutional leaders that he met. Turbott was (in his memory) the major driver of the vision. As a whole, however, of all his consultancy work overseas, he found the Australians among the most transparent and easy to deal with, willing to ‘admit to both their hopes and their fears’.

While Ron Dunsire (Visual and Performing Arts, Nepean) and Phil Bassett (Design, Nepean) were members of a logo working party convened by the Board of Governors, Guthrie remembered being at one of the many beer drinking occasions during his tour and being present when one of the staff drew the logo on a napkin:

“I remember in retrospect saying something at the time which seemed silly — but now it seems like genius. I said the first thing we ought to do is design a logo that would capture all three. I don’t know who did it, but what some artist did was that he came up with a logo that was sort of like an arrow that was ever growing. … I’m not sure [where the inspiration for that came from]. It was just over a beer. (Seemingly, we were always drinking beer!) Over a beer, I remember saying it ought to look like an arrow because it’s going forward, and it has to be an arrow which is an all-inclusive arrow, and then somebody drew it. I don’t know how they did that.” (Guthrie 2011.)

The logo captured both the sense of UWS as a ‘future organisation’ and as an organisation made of parts. Each member had a different coloured insert which contributed to the whole.

By the end of the tour, Guthrie understood that while he had some technical knowledge as to how the university could be structured and financed, ‘it wasn’t a technical problem, it was a political problem’. The State had to decide to provide sufficient resources for the University’s development, and the University needed to decide how resource allocation was going to be carried out:

“I had two models with which I came in my mind. The University of California Berkeley is operated and run by the faculty. The faculty members and faculty committees made Berkeley great. So I posed that as one model: heavy faculty engagement. But I said that’s not the only way to do it. Stanford is run by a strong administration. Frankly, there’s not much of a blend between the two, otherwise you will always find yourself engaged in conflict. Since I knew Berkeley better, I first tried to work to see how we could get the faculty departments of each of the three places aligned, so that we could have faculty committees that could make decisions about personnel, and about budget allocation, and about curriculum. But then I left, and never came back… In my mind, I steered away from a strong administrative model because I couldn’t see — in any one of the three institutions, except perhaps Graham [Swain at Hawkesbury] — one of those three emerging as the sufficiently powerful leadership which was needed to stitch it altogether… In retrospect, probably my largest mistake was in not realising that the three of them were going to continue to vie, resulting in resources being split three ways, being allocated politically, and not being allocated strategically. It would probably take a very powerful leader right from the beginning, with very strong budgetary authority… I may have had too much Berkeley in my mind, and not enough Stanford.”

After a distinguished career at the University of California, Berkeley, and later at Vanderbilt University, at the time of writing Guthrie was Senior Fellow and Director of Education Policy Studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas.


Guthrie, James W., Pierce, Lawrence C., ‘The international economy and national education reform’, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 16, Issue 2 (Jun 90).

Guthrie, James W. (1991a), ‘Educational Research and Politics’, Education Digest, Vol. 56, Issue 6 (Feb1991).

Guthrie, James W. (1991b) ‘The World’s New Political Economy Is Politicizing Educational Evaluation’. Educational Evaluation & Policy Analysis, Vol. 13 Issue 3 (Fall1991), pp. 309-321,

Clifford, Geraldine Jonçich; Guthrie, James W., ‘Strategies for Reforming Schools of Education’, Education Week, 6/8/1988, Vol. 7 Issue 37, pp.32-33

Guthrie, James W., Walter I. Garms, and Lawrence C. Pierce, Education Finance and Policy: Enhancing Education Equality, Efficiency, and Liberty. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

Guthrie, James W., Interview with Mark Hutchinson, 11 April 2011, UWS Archives.