UC Registrar announces retirement, looks back on 32-year university career

‘Fortunate’ is a word often used by Jeff Field to describe his life and career, which has been centred so strongly on UC. The description encompasses both the academic opportunities he was able to pursue as a young man at UC, but also the varied and stimulating governance and leadership roles he has held at the University over many years.

Jeff has served as UC Registrar since 2005, with responsibilities for governance, risk management and compliance. He has worked closely with five Tumu Whakarae| Vice-Chancellors and eight Tumu Kaunihera | Chancellors and, through his service, has made a lasting contribution to the University and its community.

Jeff grew up in Riccarton, the son of a grocer, just as the current UC campus was starting to be built. It was enough to plant the seeds for his future career.

“I used to play on Ilam Fields every day after school and would see the University going up. It created an awareness of the possibilities; in 1971, as a 16-year-old, I became the first in my family to go to university.”

He completed BA and MA degrees at UC, graduating in psychology with first class honours, before training as a secondary school teacher at the Christchurch College of Education. Later in 1983, after returning to New Zealand from his O.E., he enrolled in a postgraduate diploma in journalism at UC.

In his first four years at university, Jeff was based at the old town site (that later became the Arts Centre). As a teaching fellow in psychology in 1974, he worked out of an office in a villa opposite the Clock Tower.

“I met my wife [Robyn Stewart] in my first year at university and we had three daughters, all of whom are now UC graduates too!”

Jeff put his tertiary qualifications to good use, firstly by teaching maths at Aranui High School for four years, before embarking on a successful media career in print and television.

In retrospect, this was all just preparation for the pivotal opportunity that came along in 1988 to work in a sole-charge communications role at UC, marking the start of Jeff’s UC career. It was a busy position, putting out fortnightly editions of Chronicle, weekly bulletins and media releases.

Legislative reforms to education the following year ushered in a new framework of competition, deregulation and fees. “It changed the world and also created new opportunities,” Jeff recalls.

Making the most of these opportunities, he set up and developed the University’s Alumni Association in the early 1990s before leading UC’s first scholarship endowment fundraising campaign in 1993-94. (This laid the groundwork for the UC Foundation, dedicated to securing donations and bequests to support UC students, teachers and researchers).

“Over my time, we raised $80 million for scholarship endowments. Today, 10 of our million dollar donors are ones that I originally initiated.”

In the early 1990s, Jeff also spearheaded the establishment of UC’s first international office, out of which grew UC’s Study Abroad and Exchange programmes. As well, he ran Canterbury University Press as publisher in the 1990s and has long been involved with the University’s arts acquisitions programme.

Emergency management and response was part of Jeff’s portfolio of duties as UC Registrar and, following the 2010/11 earthquakes, he led UC’s insurance claim.

“It was a very intense time for everyone – my wife and I also lost our house in Huntsbury – but we were successful in negotiating a settlement of $637 million for the University. It was New Zealand’s biggest settlement at that time.”

Along with the challenges have come many positives. Jeff has enjoyed showing VIPs around the campus over the years including prime ministers and governor generals. He has been Registrar at 116 graduation ceremonies and is signatory to some 60,000 UC degrees. Jeff is also a JP and has met many thousands of student requests in that role.

“I’m grateful to have been so well resourced and empowered by the University throughout my career and am fortunate to have had great staff and teams who have worked well together.”

It has been a satisfying full circle for Jeff to see UC return to its roots at the Arts Centre with Classics and Music students now based out of buildings there. He also chaired the trust that was formed to set up Rutherford’s Den at the Arts Centre.

Jeff advised UC Tumu Whakarae | Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey of his intention to retire at the start of her tenure last year so as to support her induction and allow a smooth transition.

Sadly, Jeff’s wife died last year. They had planned to travel together to visit two of their daughters and partners in the UK and the US. Jeff still plans to do so, once travel movements begin to normalise after the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of how UC is placed to cope with the current crisis, Jeff says the University is well-prepared having had such a focus on emergency planning in recent years.

Jeff formally retires as UC Registrar on 17 April 2020.