Zelman Cowen, 1951-1963, 1964-1966

Zelman Cowen was born in 1919. He first came to the Law School as an undergraduate in 1936. He soon made a name for himself as a remarkably successful student, graduating with first class honours in arts and law, and winning many prizes, including the Supreme Court prize for the top law student.

In 1940, he won a Rhodes scholarship, but service in the navy during World War II delayed his studies at Oxford until 1945. There he became a fellow of Oriel College and a university lecturer in law. Appointed professor of public law at the University of Melbourne in 1951, he became dean on George Paton's move to the vice-chancellorship. Cowen recalled: 'during the years of the fifties, we in the Melbourne Law School were expanding, were developing new programmes, were in a very real sense establishing new horizons for Australian law schools'.

As dean, Cowen utilised his contacts abroad to establish relationships with American law schools, fostering staff visits and postgraduate study for Melbourne graduates. He also raised funds to establish the chair of commercial law, and oversaw the introduction of the case book method and moot courts into the law course. He maintained a high profile both as a scholarly author and as a commentator in the media.

Cowen left the University of Melbourne to become the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England, and then of the University of Queensland. Knighted in 1976, from 1977 to 1982, Sir Zelman was Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, succeeding the controversial Sir John Kerr. He published his memoirs, A Public Life, in 2006. Sir Zelman continued to be an active supporter of Melbourne Law School right up until his death in December 2011.