Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson has today announced he will not be renewing his five-year contract with the Senate, effectively calling it quits at UWA by 2016’s end. He has, in other words, nobly elected himself as one of the 300 (plus); or not so nobly, chosen to hop-skip out the door just as the Renewal Project is heading into crunch time.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater will act as interim leader until a replacement for the role is found. The search for a successor will apparently be “global”.

The Chancellery was informed of the decision on the weekend, with staff notified by email just after noon today. Johnson cites family reasons as a leading motivator, stating that he hopes to “ensure that my children see more of me, and that I see more of them, as they move into and through their high school years.”

He will continue to call Perth home, where he intends to return to an academic life of study “with the intention of making a positive contribution to the analysis of economic and public policy in Australia.”

Relocating to UWA in 2012 after a 5-year term as Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne’s La Trobe (during which he also executed sweeping changes), Paul Johnson’s handling of University affairs has been lately dogged by controversy and criticism – from the infamous Lomborg Consensus Centre and the axing of three Arts majors in 2015, to this year’s Renewal Project, which has seen hundreds of staff made redundant, and hundreds more working under conditions of anxiety and uncertainty.

As Johnson acknowledges, the Renewal Project is currently in a critical part of its development, with the new four-faculty restructure to be finalised in January next year. Reminiscent of Brexit advocates hauling the people into rough waters only to then jump ship, Johnson frames his exit as “an opportune moment to hand over the leadership to someone who can further build on the many achievements of recent years, and carry renewal forward to create new opportunities for this great university.” Certainly, his leave-taking is strategically sensible, and will perhaps be the most successful element of his own rebranding campaign yet.

So long, PJ. It was nice to meme you.

Words by Kate Prendergast