When Professor Tim Parkin visited Melbourne over a year ago on exchange from the University of Manchester, he realised that it was time to come back to the southern hemisphere.
"I was sick of grey skies to be honest. It was time to leave Britain, and I looked at this part of the world, looked at all the universities, and Melbourne ticked all the right boxes for me. Plus there was a job going, which helped!"
That job, the Elizabeth and James Tatoulis Chair in Classics, was made possible thanks to the support of alumni, members of the Melbourne Humanities Foundation Board and particularly the generosity of Mrs Elizabeth and Professor James Tatoulis AM. The couple, both University of Melbourne alumni, wanted to support a discipline that Elizabeth describes as transformative.
"Studying at Melbourne opened the world to me," she says. "I had previously travelled through Rome and Greece and admired the theatres and temples. But by studying Classics I learned about a society. I learned how they built those buildings, and why. It was so exciting."
A love of Classics is not the only thing connecting the couple with Professor Parkin. All three are the first members of their family to attend university, and they have a keen appreciation for the transformative power of education.
"It's because of our education that we've been able to move through social boundaries," Elizabeth says. "Our parents were incredibly proud when we graduated, and rightly so."
Both Elizabeth and James are the children of Greek immigrants, their parents motivated by a desire to give them the strongest possible opportunity for a high-quality education.
"In a generation, we've gone from being new arrivals to where we are now," James says, "in this position to give back."
They considered supporting the medical field - James is a Cardiac Surgeon - but decided on Classics because of a personal interest in the ancient world, and also because the humanities have been overlooked as a cause to support in recent times.
The couple notes that giving back has renewed their relationship with the university.
"It's been an honour and a privilege to meet the dedicated Classicists at Melbourne," Elizabeth says. "We marvel at their dedication not only to scholarship, but to the students."
Professor Parkin has only been teaching for a week, but already he's struck by the interest of the students.
"There's a spark of enthusiasm about Australian students," he notes (he was a professor of Classics at the University of Queensland from 2004 to 2006). "They want to challenge you, they ask you further questions. I really like that. I've always said the best students I've taught are Australians, and for a New Zealander to say that is really something!"
Professor Parkin only became interested in Classics after he was forced to study Latin at school at the age of 12.
"I wanted to do business studies but they said no, you've got to do Latin. I came from a fairly working-class background, and I didn't even know what Latin was."
It took him a couple of years, but he became hooked. Four decades later, he remains so, and he's passionate about the role Classics can play in the education of young people, as well as in engaging with the community at large.
"There's a misconception that studying humanities doesn't always improve your job prospects. It may not always be an instant meal ticket, but the employment rates for arts graduates at Melbourne are very high. Employers see that you're a person with a good brain, who can solve problems independently - you're an employee who is enthusiastic about what you're doing."
But the vocational aspect is just one facet of the discipline, he says.
"It's really part of learning the value of being a human being. 'Know thyself', to quote the ancient Greeks. You learn to think critically and creatively."
Both Elizabeth and James agree. The liberal arts "make people lateral thinkers, even perhaps renaissance thinkers," Elizabeth notes. "Studying Classics can be a real awakening."
James adds that the humanities helps attune you to the human condition. "By enjoying all of those things you can enjoy life," he says, "and you can appreciate other people, other cultures. If you don't have that underlying curiosity, then it can make the individual's own life less meaningful, less interesting."
The generous support of the couple may be transforming the lives of students, but it's also had a transformative effect on their own.
"When I was a young doctor, I didn't really think too far ahead," notes James. "I thought - I'll hang up my shingle in Collins Street, attach myself to hospital, buy a nice house, and that would be that.
"It's been wonderful for us to think about our legacy and to give back in this way by supporting the Humanities."
The 2018 Faculty of Arts Dean's Lecture Series: Celebrating the Impact of Giving
In 2018, thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Faculty of Arts welcomes six newly appointed Professorial Chairs, including Professor Tim Parkin. As Chairs, these academics will make significant contributions to their disciplines, enriching these specialist fields for the benefit of our students and the broader community for years to come.
To celebrate the transformative impact of philanthropic giving for future generations of students, join us for this lecture series to hear our new Chairs give talks on their areas of research expertise and teaching. The Dean's Lectures for first semester are now available for registration via the links below - the second semester lectures (including Professor Parkin's) will be announced in ARTiculation later this year.
The Faculty of Arts strives to ensure that talented students of all backgrounds have access to the outstanding scholarly expertise and leadership that these new appointments represent. The Faculty of Arts 110 Scholarship is an access and equity scholarship fund that supports students who struggle to afford a university education or are hampered by circumstances beyond their control.
Every gift counts - if you're interested in learning more, please visit the 110 Scholarship website.
Register now for Semester One Faculty of Arts Dean’s Lectures
Wednesday, 28 March | 6.45pm-7.45pm
'Things Fall Apart' - Putting the world back together one document at a time
Professor Robyn Sloggett, Cripps Foundation Chair in Cultural Materials Conservation
Thursday, 12 April| 6.45pm-7.45pm
'No Petty People'- The making of literary Ireland
Professor Ronan McDonald, Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies
Wednesday, 6 June| 6.45pm-7.45pm
Where to Begin - Writing a history of Australian art
Professor Ian McLean, Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art