Lifelong educator bids farewell to Australian Catholic University

Anne Cummins

Lifelong educator Anne Cummins prepares for life in retirement.

Professor Anne Cummins remembers her first day as a high school principal like it was yesterday.

It was at Merici College, a Catholic all-girls school in Canberra. As she sauntered through the corridors getting a sense of the place, she was soon lost.

“I had to be back at my office for an appointment, and then I asked a student for directions, and when she quite sensibly asked what I was doing there, I foolishly told her I was the new Principal,” Professor Cummins said.

“To this, the girl sagely replied, ‘Well Miss, if you’re the new Principal, you better work out where your office is!’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I guess I know something about the girls here now — don’t mess with them’.”

Professor Cummins went on to forge a successful career as an educator and executive, including running her own educational consultancy firm. She has a long and rich history in Catholic education, as a student, teacher, administrator and an academic.

Her relationship with Australian Catholic University (ACU) began when she sat on the University Senate, from 1992 to 2006. She was appointed Dean of Students in 2008, and the following year was tasked with leading the new Students, Learning and Teaching portfolio, a position she has held ever since.


This month, after a decade with ACU, Professor Cummins will retire as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching).

More than 40 years of working in education has not dulled her passion for teaching and learning, forged while she was at secondary school with the Ursuline Sisters in Sydney.  

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“Even as a student, I was interested in the way schools work, as a group of people trying to do something together, and I still do find schools and universities quite fascinating in that respect,” Professor Cummins said.  

By the time she had graduated from St Ursula’s College, she knew she’d be a teacher.

Her first gig was at the Donald Duck Pre-School, a job she described as “fun, but hardly auspicious”, and her next appointment was at a small primary school in Sydney that still had desks from the 19th century.

I got a bit of a shock when I got to a classroom of 39 rowdy kids, most of them boys, and quickly realised that teaching was actually very hard work,” Professor Cummins said.

Her proudest triumphs at ACU include recruiting talented senior staff to the Students, Learning and Teaching portfolio, many of them women, and engaging in her passion for helping others.

Professor Cummins has helped to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates, and offered opportunities to refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa to study on ACU’s campuses. 

She’s been “a champion for those who often have nobody else to champion them”, said Father Anthony Casamento, ACU’s Vice-President.  

“Anne has been a gift to ACU, and the University has also been a gift to Anne, because it’s allowed her to pursue her passion for education and social justice,” Fr Casamento said.

“She’s played an advocate role for women, for indigenous students, for older students who have returned to university, the first in family to attend university, and those who’ve come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

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Commitment to Catholic education

Professor Cummins said she had “a really firm belief in the value of a Catholic university in this country”.

“I think Catholic education will continue to be a force for justice and inclusion and for building on the social capacity of the land to look after people,” she said, adding that she was “a true believer in the transformative power of education”.

“You can buy a new car and go through a red light and have it smashed by a truck and it’s gone, and if you’re lucky, you walk away alive,” Professor Cummins said.  

“But no one can take your education away from you. You always have it and you can use it in many different ways … It helps you to see the world clearly, to relate to other people, to face your fears and achieve your goals.”

 Professor Greg Craven, ACU’s Vice-Chancellor and President, said Professor Cummins had played a key role in ACU’s development and growth over the past decade.

“I would like to thank her for her tireless commitment to the ACU community as a teacher, guide and mentor,” he said.

Professor Cummins will pass the mantle to Professor Zlatko Skrbis, formerly of Monash University, who will take on the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students Learning and Teaching) in November 2018.

  • Article supplied by Australian Catholic University


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