Lauchlan Chipman, an influential conservative philosopher who held leadership roles at several Australian universities and reputedly inspired a famous Monty Python skit, passed away on April 13, aged 78.
He was Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Bond University, a former Vice Chancellor of Central Queensland University and Foundation Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wollongong.
Professor Chipman was also pivotal in the creation of the libertarian think tank The Centre for Independent Studies, delivering a paper at its inaugural seminar in 1976 and going on to serve as an academic advisor until his passing.
John Lauchlan Carter Chipman was born in Melbourne in 1940. He contracted polio as a child and walked with the aid of a stick until a knee replacement late in life. He said doing without the stick after so many decades was “like losing an old friend”.
Professor Chipman attended Essendon High School and then the University of Melbourne to study a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts.
In 1965 he secured a Commonwealth UK Award that took him to the University of Oxford where he graduated with a Bachelor of Philosophy (Distinction) and a Doctor of Philosophy.
It was at Oxford that he became friends with a fellow student, Michael Palin, who went on to become a member of Monty Python. The pair lived together and Professor Chipman is variously cited as the inspiration for the comedy group’s Bruces skit about the members of a philosophy department at a fictional Australian university who are all named Bruce.
He returned to the University of Melbourne to study law and became a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy before being appointed Foundation Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wollongong in 1975, and later Pro Vice Chancellor.
Professor Chipman served as Deputy Vice Chancellor at Monash University from 1995-1996 and subsequently was appointed as Vice Chancellor and President of Central Queensland University from 1996 to 2001.
He was also Liberal Arts Fellow in Law and Philosophy at Harvard University Law School and a Fellow of the Australian College of Education.
Professor Chipman “retired” to the Gold Coast but joined Bond University as an ombudsman and later a lecturer.
Colleagues remembered an intensely private man who nonetheless was generous with advice when it was sought, and who taught philosophy until the last year of his life.
Former Newcastle and Bond University Vice Chancellor, Professor Raoul Mortley, said Professor Chipman was “immensely knowledgeable” but rarely spoke outside of lecture theatres.
“One of the students said listening to him was like opening a book -- everything you ever wanted was in there,” Professor Mortley said.
Early in his career he concentrated on the philosophy of language, a product of his mid-20th century Oxford training, but this later evolved towards political and moral philosophy.
A Christian libertarian, Professor Chipman advocated for a flat tax system, writing for newspapers and the conservative magazine Quadrant.
He argued for the opening up of the Australian higher education sector to more private universities and cast a critical eye over multiculturalism.
“He was right-wing and in university philosophy departments that doesn’t make you very popular,” Professor Mortley said.
Founder and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, Greg Lindsay, recalled Professor Chipman’s role in helping get CIS off the ground in the mid-1970s.
“I had an idea to start an organisation that would explore some of the important ideas underpinning a free society,” Mr Lindsay said.
“I read a review by Lauchlan Chipman of Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick’s book Anarchy, State and Utopia.
“I wrote to Lauchlan in 1976, Anzac Day if I recall, about what I had in mind and I was impressed that he took the trouble to drive up from Wollongong to discuss my plan.
“He was willing to endorse it and became the first of many significant intellectual figures to join our advisory council and become active participants in our work.
“Our Occasional Paper No.1 was by Lauchlan and he contributed many more pieces over the years. But he was the first and I can never forget that.
“CIS is now a substantial organisation and Lauchlan had a guiding hand in helping me in those early days.”
Professor Mortley said his colleague was devoted to continuous learning even towards the end of his life.
“We celebrated his 50 years of university teaching about three years ago with a bottle of vintage port,” Professor Mortley said.
“Around that same time he decided to do the Foundations of University Learning and Teaching course.
“So after 50 years of teaching he decided to do a course to see if he could improve – and he did.”
Bond University Vice Chancellor and President Professor Tim Brailsford noted it was a sad day for all at Bond but also education in general.
"Lauchlan retired for the 'second' time just last year and we celebrated his substantial contribution to philosophy and higher education,” Professor Brailsford said.
“He was old school and set high standards, believing that students needed to be constantly challenged and that they would rise to the occasion.
"Lauchlan understood the power of education and believed he had a duty to share his wisdom and expose his students to alternative views. He stressed the importance of understanding the role of philosophy as a foundation of modern society."