Feeling at home away from home
Waikato University's vice-chancellorLOUISE RISK
Waikato University's Professor Roy Crawford is settled in the "heart of New Zealand", reports Louise Risk.
Most people who move to New Zealand from the other side of the world are driven by a desire to live in a beautiful country, to have a better lifestyle.
Not so for Waikato University's vice-chancellor.
Although he undoubtedly appreciates all that New Zealand has to offer, Professor Roy Crawford's desire to move here from Ireland was motivated by something most people would find far less pack-up-your-family-and-move-thousands-of-kilometres inspiring: plastic. Specifically rotation moulded plastic which is used to make hollow plastic articles such as surf boards, kayaks and water tanks.
Apparently Kiwis have quite a talent with the stuff and for a couple of years Professor Crawford, a mechanical engineering expert, got in on the action at Auckland University.
He and his family then returned to his old stomping ground - Queen's University in Belfast - for a couple of years before the opportunity to be the vice-chancellor at Waikato University came up in 2005.
Now in his second five-year tenure, the softly-spoken Professor Crawford has no hesitation in calling New Zealand home.
Sitting on a comfortable leather couch in his modest but spacious air-conditioned office, he looks at home.
A vice-chancellor, Professor Crawford explains, is quite different from a chancellor, who apart from chairing the university's council, is primarily a figurehead position.
"Very, very few vice-chancellors would ever become a chancellor, it's a completely different career.
"Usually they're someone quite high-profile such as a former prime minister like we have now," he says referring to Chancellor Jim Bolger.
Professor Crawford likens his job to that of a chief executive of a company such as Fonterra, but says he was keen to stick with a university environment because of his academic background.
"Like many things the longer you're (on a certain career path) the more you drift away from the things you enjoy, such as research and lecturing."
Nowadays his "24/7" working week consists of a multitude of meetings, many of which he chairs, and making an appearance at numerous functions both on campus and in the wider community.
Professor Crawford also makes frequent business trips overseas, and tries to find the time to meet with some of the university's 2000-plus staff and its 13,000-plus students to keep in touch with grassroots issues.
He has kept up some research, purely for the love of it, and was integral in the development of a plastic bagpipe reed, which, due to its nature, offers a far more consistent sound than a traditional moisture-absorbing wooden one.
Professor Crawford, who clearly strives for excellence, strongly believes it takes two things to create a world-class university: great people and great facilities. And the fact both of these have improved since he took the helm at Waikato University is a source of great satisfaction for him.
"I think we've made a lot of progress here. Waikato is a world-class university in the heart of New Zealand."
He said there were already some top people at the university when he arrived, but the area has grown in strength, with like attracting like.
As for the facilities, he has built on the existing Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts with the student centre completed last year and the next big project is the multimillion-dollar flagship law and management building, which is to be built by 2015.
"We've got the lakes and the walkways, we've got social areas for the students.
"The place is just buzzing when you walk across the campus. Staff and students want to come here."
With such a full-on work schedule, it is easy to imagine Professor Crawford having a wife who hardly sees him tucked away somewhere, but it is clear Renee is as big a part of the vice-chancellor's life now as when they were a young couple courting in movie theatres back in Ireland.
Mrs Crawford is regularly at Professor Crawford's side, something that makes the endless functions he has to attend bearable, although the good professor does not word it quite like that.
"My wife, Renee, has been a great support throughout my career."
The couple married when they were young, and, instead of attending university herself, Mrs Crawford was the home support for her husband and their three now-grown children, Paul, Steven and Emma.
His young grandson, who lives in Dubai, is someone else the professor clearly enjoys spending time with, and a family reunion in London for his second son's wedding this year is something to look forward to.
A trip to the movie theatre is an activity Professor and Mrs Crawford still enjoy together, and although Professor Crawford is impressed by the spacious La Premiere seats at the Te Awa Hoyts, he shares a complaint voiced by others as well - that the seats are too far apart for snuggling.
Reading not of the I-have-to-read-this-in-preparation-for-Monday's-meeting variety, watching sport, particularly Manchester United football, and playing golf are hobbies Professor Crawford enjoys when he gets the chance.
Back in his teens, the professor, a speedy right-wing, was asked to play for a professional Irish football team, but chose the life of academia instead.
Perhaps ironically by today's standards, there was more money in an academic career, although as Professor Crawford points out, "There aren't many David Beckhams in the world".
"I don't know if I regret it, Id on't think so. At that stage it wasn't well paid like it is nowadays. It was a big decision, I'm probably a bit of a conservative."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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