Vale Don Aitkin AO (1937-2022)

24 May, 2022

Vale Don Aitkin AO (1937-2022)

The APSA is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Don Aitkin (AO, FASSA). Don served as president of APSA from 1979-1980, was its Secretary/Treasurer from 1981-1986, and was a recipient of APSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Don earned a Master of Arts (First Class) from the University of New England in 1961 and a PhD in 1964 from the Australian National University. After taking up a number of research fellowships both overseas and in Australia, Don accepted an appointment as the foundation chair of Politics at Macquarie University in 1971. Nine years later he took up the chair of political science at the Australian National University.

Don’s research made a significant contribution to Australian political studies. Two of his books have become standards in their field – The Country Party in New South Wales: A Study of Organisation and Support (1972), and Stability and Change in Australian Politics (1977 and 1982). He originated a classic text book on Australian politics, Australian Political Institutions, that ran to ten editions (2015), updated with the assistance at various time of three other co-authors. Many undergraduates have benefited from its presentation of the key features of Australia’s political system. One of his most recent books, What Was It All For? The Reshaping of Australia (2005), prompted considerable discussion that reached beyond academic circles. This was consistent with Don’s willingness to engage beyond academia via various forms of media commentary on political issues. At different times in his career he was a regular columnist for various newspapers – the National Times, the Australian Financial Review, and the Canberra Times.

Don also made his mark as a higher education and research administrator, influencing the evolution of national policies for research and higher education from the mid-1980s. He helped establish the Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research, and served as its President from 1984 to 1986. He chaired the Australian Research Grants Committee and subsequently became the first chairperson of the Australian Research Council when it was established in 1988. Under his stewardship it developed into a world class institution. He was also a member of the Australian Science and Technology Council, chairperson of the Board of the Institute of Advanced Studies at the ANU, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Political Science Association, serving as its Secretary-General from 1983 to 1986.

Between 1991 and 2002 Don served as Vice Chancellor of the University of Canberra. Under his leadership the institution moved from its earlier beginnings as a college of advanced education to become a university of distinction. He served as Vice President of the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee in 1994 and 1995. Don also held numerous prestigious posts with government and community boards in Canberra such as the NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust (chair 2001-2016), the Cultural Facilities Corporation (chair 2002-2012), chair of the National Capital Authority (2008), and many more.

Don was the recipient of many honours during his career. In 1975 he was one of the youngest scholars at the time to be appointed a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He was appointed Fellow of the Australian College of Educators in 1995, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian Planning Institute in 2001. Don was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) in 1998. He has also been awarded two honorary doctorates, Doctor of the University in 2002 from the University of Canberra, and Doctor of Letters from the University of New England in 2004. 

As a political scientist, university administrator, public intellectual, supporter of the arts and social sciences, Don Aitkin made an immeasurable contribution to the intellectual life of Australia.

Emeritus Professor Jim Jose

President, Australian Political Studies Association

(On behalf of the Executive Committee of APSA)

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