By Paul Dobbyn
AUSTRALIAN Catholic University Vice Chancellor Professor Greg Craven has vigorously defended the university’s plan to award scholarships in memory of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was among critics of the scholarships, saying “there could be no truck with drug trafficking” and the university’s proposal “sent a very unusual message”.
The controversy came as the bodies of the two executed Australians arrived back at Sydney Airport on Saturday, May 2.
Chan’s widow and Sukumaran’s family arrived in Sydney with the bodies, a day after Chan’s grieving family flew home.
Prof Craven said “the outpouring of hate over the scholarships” had been surprising.
“I hope I die with such grace,” he said, referring to the two Australian leaders of the Bali Nine drug smuggling ring recently executed in Indonesia.
“(These scholarships) commemorate men who died reformed, redeemed, courageously and uncompromisingly human,” he said in a statement on the ACU website.
“The scholarships will commemorate the two men, but the university never proposed they be named after them.
“In fact, they will be called the Mercy Scholarships, after the quality so desperately denied Chan and Sukumaran.”
Each of the two scholarships, to be awarded to Indonesian students, will be the equivalent to the full tuition of the recipient’s course duration over a period of up to four years.
“The two scholarships will be awarded to academically-qualified applicants upon the submission of an essay on the theme of ‘the sanctity of human life’,” Prof Craven said.
He hoped “in a small and symbolic way”, the writing by Indonesian students on the sanctity of life would be an ongoing contribution toward the eventual abolition of the death penalty in Indonesia.
Sukumuran and Chan were shot in the early hours of Wednesday, April 29, by firing squad on the Indonesian prison island of Nusakambangan, alongside six other death-row prisoners.
At this stage, funeral plans for the two men are unclear but it is likely that Chan, who became a reverend while on death row and whose family has a strong religious background, will have a religious ceremony.