Vale Emeritus Professor David Geoffrey Penington, 4/2/1930 – 6/1/2023

David Penington
The University of Melbourne acknowledges the passing of Emeritus Professor David Penington AC on Friday 6 January at the age of 92.

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Emeritus Professor David Penington AC on Friday 6 January at the age of 92.

Professor Penington’s association with the University of Melbourne was long and distinguished. It included 17 years as Professor of Medicine, eight as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences (MDHS), and eight as Vice-Chancellor from 1988 to 1995.

Professor Penington’s outstanding service to medicine and the community was acknowledged by his appointments as Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988 and Victorian of the Year in 2014.

Born in Melbourne, David Penington received his undergraduate education at the University of Melbourne and continued his medical studies at Oxford University. Having held academic and hospital appointments as a medical specialist, teacher and researcher at the London Hospital, Professor Penington returned to Australia in 1967 to pursue his research, teaching and care of sick people in an academic post at the University of Melbourne.

As the Dean of MDHS from 1978 to 1985, Professor Penington’s most notable achievements included development of new approaches to undergraduate medical education and curriculum reform, the redevelopment of the administrative infrastructure, and the introduction of open and effective mechanisms for the allocation of resources. He responded actively to government and community concerns about access to medical education for socially and educationally disadvantaged students, including refugees, principally from Vietnam.

From 1983, during the national public debate into AIDS, Professor Penington took a leadership role as adviser to the Hawke Government, and in the mid 1980s chaired a national Committee of Inquiry that was instrumental in the subsequent introduction of Medicare. He has also worked for the Red Cross, including seven years as Chair of the National Blood Transfusion Committee, and set up blood transfusion aid programs in Nepal and China.

He was a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council and chaired the federal body which came to be known as the National AIDS Task Force, undertaking critical work at the early stage of AIDS epidemic. The report from the Commonwealth Inquiry into Rights of Private Practice in Public Hospitals, produced under his chairmanship in 1984, was widely acclaimed as a landmark in the development of health policy in Australia.

Professor Penington’s appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne coincided with the major reform of higher education introduced under the Hawke Labor Government that led to the creation of the Unified National System and expansion of university places through introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS).

Across the eight years he served the University as Vice-Chancellor, Professor Penington was a stalwart and resolute defender of university values and institutional autonomy during this period of significant change and government intervention.

He oversaw a major expansion of the University through amalgamation with a number of colleges of advanced education including the Melbourne College of Advanced Education and the Victorian College of the Arts. Professor Penington was a tireless advocate of academic excellence, and a great believer in the vital roles played by academic departments and Academic Board in pursuit of world class teaching and research.

Professor Penington established the University’s first Graduate School and helped create the University Graduate Student Association, UMPA. Australia’s current university admissions framework, subsequently translated into Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATARs), is in no small way the product of Professor Penington’s earlier dedication to safeguarding robust selection practices from Year 12 into university.

Professor Penington had a strong commitment to the arts and humanities, played a significant role in establishing the Australian National Academy of Music, and was a lifetime supporter of the Melbourne Theatre Company.

In the community, Professor Penington was active and influential in improving the lives and health outcomes of people suffering drug and alcohol addiction. He played a central role in establishing the North Richmond Community Health Service and applied his knowledge and experience to instituting effective programs in rural Victoria at Mansfield, where he had a farm and indulged his love of trout fishing.

Professor Penington made an important and lasting contribution to the University of Melbourne community, and is remembered fondly by his colleagues and students.

Details of a memorial service for Professor Penington will be communicated at a later date.