Dr Owen Morris
School of Medicine and Public Health
The science of wealth
Observing and analysing ordinary human life from multiple angles, Professor Morris Altman is seeking to help explain and predict economic decision-making in the 21st century.
Though chiefly concerned with the 'what is' in the world of economics, Professor Morris Altman is also adept at considering the possibilities - 'what could be' and 'what ought to be.' The celebrated academic explores aspects of both in his research, scrutinising and subsuming socio-economic phenomena into several broad categories.
Behavioural economics and institutional economics have been and continue to be particular focal points of mine.
"The former looks at the interface between economic theory, psychology, sociology and politics."
"Institutional economics on the other hand, focuses on understanding the role of historically-bound social systems in shaping human behaviour."
A fast start
Morris proved to be a leader early on in his career, establishing a student journal as an undergraduate at Canada's McGill University in the 1970s. A workhorse and a wordsmith, he received the Newcomen Award for his 400-page Master's thesis a few years later in 1981.
"I then undertook a PhD," the bilinguist recalls.
"It principally dealt with cliometrics, which applies empirical data and statistical methods to the study of economic history."
Lecturing and presenting this research around the world in the decades immediately following his doctoral degree, Morris sought to strengthen the nexus between teaching, training and practice.
"I spent most of my time as the Head of Department of Economics at the University of Saskatchewan," he says.
"I held visiting appointments at Stanford, Duke, Cambridge and Cornell as well."
"Before moving to Australia, I was also the Head of Economics and Finance at Victoria University in New Zealand."
Morris joined the University of Newcastle in 2015.
Getting down to business
As the new Dean of the Newcastle Business School, Morris has a bold and emblazoned vision.
"I plan to build on its strengths, lift research performances, and reengage with external stakeholders," the economist affirms.
"It's very exciting!"
Splitting resources between the City, Callaghan, Ourimbah and Sydney campuses, Morris similarly intends to create unique senses of empowerment and voice. Hoping to level the playing field, the accomplished scholar is in the process of renaming each branch and assigning deputies too.
"For example, at the Central Coast campus we're reorganising the School in such a way that it will be able to cater a full suite of courses and compete with Macquarie and other Sydney-based universities," he clarifies.
"I like to think of both Sydney and the Central Coast as small, interdisciplinary communities – students want to come because it's easier to get to know each other and their professors."
"In all campuses we need to work as a team."
Though Morris has only held the position for mere months, he has already rolled out a handful of impressive initiatives.
"I'm currently setting up an experimental economics and trading lab for financial markets," the social scientist elaborates.
"These will help to prove or disprove associated theories and provide insights into real-world behaviour."
Morris is also helping to develop interdisciplinary programs to capitalise on the outstanding teachers and scholars in Newcastle. He's also building on past achievements to develop and launch programs in innovation and entrepreneurship. Also being launched are programs on cooperative management and organisation, professional economics and sport management.
"I'm emphasising the importance of internationalisation in classes as well."
"The attention has been on China for a long time so Dr Tony Drew and I are now shifting it more towards Europe, Africa and other parts of the Asian Pacific as well."
Closer to home, Morris is collaborating with the Wollotuka and Hunter Medical Research Institutes. A master at multitasking, the cofounding editor of the Review of Behavioural Economics is simultaneously endeavouring to relaunch the executive education area at these two prime locations, and energise and incentivise community engagement.
"We're badging it a couple of ways," he illuminates.
"People can either take our one-day courses to get a certificate of completion, or get a partial credit for one of the existing postgraduate programs."
"I believe these are vitally important as they link us strategically and spiritually to the Hunter and Central Coast communities."
Additionally looking to reenergise student and staff relationships, Morris is also working with great faculty and support staff to deliver a new "blended, more interactive" model of learning.
"Instead of having classes of 400 students where lecture attendance is a dismal 30%, we will split the students across 80 or so class units," he explains.
"Typically, they will then go to one formal lecture a fortnight and a series of tutorials based on problem questions."
"Institutions that have reconfigured courses like this have seen attendances increase to around 70%."
A seamless juggler of administration and teaching responsibilities, Morris is ready and waiting to throw research into the mix. The enterprising expert is currently developing a number of survey experiments, for example, probing consumer behaviour and behaviour within a firm.
"Consumer behaviour is related to the preferences people have," he describes.
"We're asking why people buy directly from small businesses and cooperative organisations if it costs them more money."
"Behaviour within a firm looks at the reasons why workers might behave in a way which is inconsistent with traditional maximising behaviour in economic theory."
Equally concerned with testing hypotheses and forecasting future trends, Morris is trying to reframe how methodologies are used in applied economics too.
"They're often not used properly in a variety of areas," the prolific publisher asserts.
"They can produce misleading results."
Dr Tessa Morrison has reconstructed unbuilt utopian cities from 1460-1900 to analyse the interconnection of architecture and political philosophy.
Utopia' is a word with many connotations both negative and positive, something that is ideal or something that is impossible to ever achieve. Yet the utopian dream of the ideal society and city dates back to Plato and probably beyond. The ideal society has two elements, its political structure and the city or urban plan that enhances the political structure. Researcher Dr Tessa Morrison analyses ten key utopian cities over 500 year period to assess their evolution in social and political philosophies and how their architecture informs this political philosophical or social agenda.
Morrison, whose background is in fine arts, mathematics and philosophy, completed a PhD on labyrinthine structures at the University of Newcastle in 2004. Her interest in architectural history developed while she was working as a research assistant for Professor Michael Ostwald in the School of Architecture and Built Environment.
After receiving a five-year research fellowship from the University in 2007, Morrison embarked upon studies on utopian cities. In the course of that research, she came across the circa-1680s Newton manuscript in the digital archives of the Babson Library in Massachusetts. The manuscript contained a detailed architectural description of Solomon's Temple, which is said in the Old Testament to have stood on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and Morrison used it to construct, for the first time, a model of the building as envisaged by Newton. This research was awarded three-year ARC postdoctoral fellowship and resulted in the publication of Isaac Newton's Temple of Solomon and his Reconstruction of Sacred Architecture published by Springer.
Part of the methodological approach in the Newton project was to reconstruct Isaac Newton's architectural vision to further understand Newton's religious beliefs and his interest in the symbolism of architecture. This project gave new insight into Morrison's research on utopian cities. Returning to utopian studies she brought together ten utopian works that mark important points in the history of social and political philosophies, this project not only reflects on the utopian texts and their political philosophy and implications, but also on their architecture and how that architecture informs the political philosophy that the author intended. Each of the ten authors expressed their theory through concepts of community and utopian architecture, but each featured an architectural solution at the centre of their social and political philosophy, as none of the cities were ever built, they have remained as utopian literature. This research has resulted in a monograph published by Ashgate entitled Unbuilt Utopian Cities 1460 to 1900: Reconstructing their Architecture and Political Philosophy
Some of the works she has examined have been very well known such as Tommaso Campanella's Civitas Solis, Johann Valentin Andreae's Christianopolis or Robert Owen's Villages of Unity and Cooperation, while others such as Joseph Michael Gandy's Designs for Cottages, Robert Pemberton's Happy Colony or Bradford Peck's The World a Department Store, are relatively obscure. However, even with the best known works, this research offers new insights by focusing on the architecture of the cities and how that architecture represents the author's political philosophy. The research also brings an increased insight into other authors such as Albercht Dürer, who is known mainly as a sixteenth century printmaker, painter and art theorist and not as an architect and architectural theorist. Morrison's current research reveals that he made a significant contribution to architectural theory and practice and his influence carried on through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This repositioning of Albercht Dürer as an architectural theorist is the focus of her current research.