University of Otago appoints new vice-chancellor

Prof David Murdoch. Photo: Supplied
Prof David Murdoch. Photo: Supplied
A new vice-chancellor has been appointed at the University of Otago.

The current dean and head of campus at University of Otago, Christchurch, Prof David Murdoch has been selected to take on the university's top job left vacant with the departure of Prof Harlene Hayne earlier this year.

In a statement this morning the university said Prof Murdoch was a distinguished academic and "recognised world-leader" in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, particularly pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Prof Murdoch said that he was honoured to take on the role of Vice-Chancellor.

"I care deeply about the University; I am very much looking forward to beginning in the role next year and working with staff, students and the many groups of people who are important to me and the University’s future.

"For me, key aspects of leadership are trust, respect, transparent communication and establishing diversity in teams.

"The importance of diversity in teams and leadership groups is crucial to good leadership. Addressing a lack of diversity requires determination, but this often isn’t necessarily as hard as is made out. I also think that it is vital to trust people, to support them in doing their best.”

University of Otago chancellor  Royden Somerville said Prof Murdoch was selected after an extensive global recruitment search.

"He is a values-driven and empathetic academic leader who has a demonstrated record in developing positive organisational structures that encourage diversity and inclusiveness," Dr Somerville  said.

"He is also a strong advocate for equity, global citizenship and Te Tiriti-led partnership.

"He will be an outstanding leader who will ensure that we are well positioned to face the future and confront the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

"I know that he is committed to building the University’s future as a leading public university with a rich heritage, not only here in Aotearoa, but also internationally."

Last year, Prof Murdoch received the University of Otago’s Distinguished Research Medal.

He was the head of pathology at the University of Otago, Christchurch, during the Canterbury earthquakes, and involved in the planning the Christchurch health precinct.

He had a leading role in a landmark Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded global study of childhood pneumonia that changed the way the disease is diagnosed, treated and prevented in developing countries; and years of research that has re-written the world view on Legionnaires’ disease.

He is the co-director of the One Health Aotearoa research alliance.

And he advised the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic, and was one of three international experts invited to advise the Oxford University team developing a vaccine for Covid-19.

Prof Murdoch was born in Dunedin, starting school at Opoho Primary before moving to Christchurch at the age of six.

As a young doctor he worked in a very remote Nepalese hospital, which greatly influenced his future career as an infectious disease specialist and researcher.

Prof Murdoch will start as vice-chancellor early in 2022.

He will move to Dunedin with his wife, Dr Lynley Cook, a public health physician.

Professor Murdoch and Dr Cook met in Dunedin and were in the same medical school class.

The couple have two adult daughters.

Prof Helen Nicholson will continue in the role of acting vice-chancellor until Prof Murdoch starts.

Dr Somerville thanked Prof Nicholson for her invaluable leadership during this time.

Professor Murdoch’s career awards and distinctions:

University of Otago Distinguished Research Medal (2020)
Outstanding Leadership Award, University of Otago, Christchurch (2020)
Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology (2019)
Honorary member, Holistic Health Society – Nepal (2017), for outstanding service and contribution in the health sector of Nepal.
Fellow, Infectious Diseases Society of America (2005)
Honorary life member, Himalayan Rescue Association, Nepal (1988) 

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