On 24 February 2016, members of the Adelaide Law School community gathered to farewell Professor John Williams, Dean of the Adelaide Law School from 2011 until 2016, who leaves to take up the Pro Vice-Chancellorship (Research Operations) of the University of Adelaide. John leaves behind a truly colossal legacy as a scholar, a colleague, and as a Dean.
Having completed a doctorate in the Law Program of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University, John Williams joined the Adelaide Law School in 1997 as a Lecturer. Over the next nine years John’s rise was nothing short of meteoric, which surprised no one, given his prodigious scholarly abilities and remarkable ability to engage everyone with whom he came into contact. To judges and politicians, Vice-Chancellors and lecturers, cab drivers and waiters, and everyone in between, John was an everyman, able to relate to and understand the feelings and concerns of all. He was Lecturer in 1997-1998, Senior Lecturer from 1999 to 2003, and Reader at the Australian National University, College of Law in 2004-2005. In 2006 he was appointed Professor of Law in the Adelaide Law School, and in 2015 was named the second holder of the Dame Roma Mitchell Chair of Law. He held a number of significant visiting appointments as well: University of Victoria Faculty of Law (Canada) in 2007, the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law in 2001, Menzies Foundation Fellow of Kings College, The University of London in 2002 and in 2014 was the Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia.
John’s primary research interests lie in public law, especially Australian constitutional law, The High Court of Australia, comparative constitutional law, federalism and legal history. He has also investigated water law and the regulation of the Murray-Darling. He co-edited and founded the New Federalist, and edited the Australian Journal of Legal History (now Legal History, of which he is a member of the Editorial Board) and the Adelaide Law Review (of which he is member of the Advisory Board). His scholarship was recognised by the fact that he has held a number of Australian Research Council and national competitive grants and that he was awarded a Centenary of Federation Medal in 2001.
In addition to his scholarly activities, John is a member of a number of academic and government committees including the National Archives Advisory Council, Vice-President of the Australian Association of Constitutional Law, and the advisory committee of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas and chaired the South Australian Fulbright Committee from 2010 to 2014. He has served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Don Dunstan Foundation and UniBooks Pty Ltd. And since 2009 he has been a consultant to the Good Offices Mission as part of the United Nations peace process in Cyprus.
John’s elevation to a Senior Lectureship in 1999 coincided with my arrival at the Adelaide Law School. John was the first person to pay me a visit in my new office in the Ligertwood Building. I can still remember that visit and our conversation. My office, empty apart from a desk and a couple of chairs, echoed our words as we spoke. I can remember that night telling my wife that I had met someone who would be a great supporter and very likely a future Dean of the Law School. John proved me right in both of my predictions. Over the years, I came to see John as ‘just down the corridor’, and I frequently took advantage of his willingness to provide advice, guidance, strategy, and just a listening and caring ear. And while he moved, both within the Law School and around the country and the globe, he has never once let me down: I can call on him any time and he is there to provide that same advice, guidance, strategy, and friendship that he provided on that February afternoon in 1999.
And, of course, of much greater significance than what John meant and means to me, in 2011 he was appointed the 29th Dean of the Adelaide Law School in its nearly 135 years of existence. And while he occupied that office, there was seldom any doubt that he was our leader. Throughout his time as Dean he has worked tirelessly to lead the Adelaide Law School, both as respected colleague and supporter and as a champion of the school and its interests in the wider University and legal communities. This he did with aplomb, taking us collectively into exciting new endeavours and supporting each individual in their personal and professional development.
Among John’s many and diverse achievements as Dean, four stand out. First, he established and championed the Adelaide Law School Achievement Program and Dean of Law Fund, both of which made it possible for disadvantaged young people to study law. Second, he established and remains the Director of the South Australian Law Reform Institute, overseeing influential reviews that make a significant impact in the community. Third, he developed the concept of an annual photographic competition, Images of Justice, which challenges entrants to capture the essence of justice through the camera’s lens. This competition was and is central to strengthening the relationship between the Adelaide Law School and the wider legal community nationally and in South Australia. And, finally, John drove the redevelopment of the Ligertwood Building, allowing the Adelaide Law School to have its own dedicated building with a fully re-furbished interior. Each of these achievements leaves a tangible and lasting legacy not only to the Adelaide Law School, but to the community within which it exists.
As John leaves us to assume the Pro Vice-Chancellorship, the Adelaide Law School community expresses its heartfelt pleasure that John is taking this next step in his career and our heartfelt gratitude for his leadership throughout his time as a member of the school and as its Dean.
Adelaide Law School, The University of Adelaide