Today, September 1st 2016, marks the 30th anniversary of my first academic job, and it seems right to remember and reflect on three decades in the higher education sector. So much has changed, and my experiences have been so varied, it seems important to take stock. On 1st September 1986 I was appointed Research Assistant at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford. A year later I was promoted to Research Officer. I wouldn’t have got these jobs now. I applied with a BA (Hons) in law and an MPhil in Criminology from the University of Cambridge. I had no book, no articles in print, and nothing forthcoming. My most substantial piece of research had been my Masters dissertation on the press coverage of the trials of Oscar Wilde. It had absolutely nothing to do with what I was being employed in Oxford to do – which was to work, primarily with Dr Keith Hawkins – on a multidisciplinary project commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive on the way it carried out its regulatory responsibilities.
A number of researchers were involved in this, most of whom were already very experienced and who had between them a range of disciplinary expertise. There was Sally Lloyd-Bostock (a psychologist), Paul Fenn, Alistair McGuire, Cento Veljanovski and Alastair Gray (economists), Peter Bartrip (a historian), Mavis Maclean, Bridget Hutter, Robert Dingwall, and Doreen McBarnet (sociologists), and Chris Whelan, Hazel Genn, Rob Baldwin, Keith Hawkins and Don Harris (the Director - whose tenure we celebrated in 2013 (see p.11 here - there's a lovely photograph)), who were lawyers. It was quite an august group of people (though at the time I had little idea quite how august – just as I had little understanding how the people who had taught me at the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge had been leaders in their fields (including David Thomas, Anthony Bottoms, Trevor Bennett, Maureen Cain, Colin Sumner and the extraordinary Allison Morris (who was my inspiration to pursue an academic career)). At the time, there was – it seems impossible to imagine now – no internet, no World Wide Web, no Google – and these were simply people who had written stuff that you could find on reading lists and who must therefore (given where they were working) be very good at their jobs. There was no way of establishing how often they had been referred to by others by using an online citation index. They didn’t have scores. They weren’t the object of metric evaluation. They were simply teachers, scholars and colleagues – some of whom became firm friends (I lived in Mavis’s basement for a year). In this sense, and it’s an important sense, my initial experience of academic life was personal, material, and social. I discussed ideas with my teachers and colleagues, and I read theirs and others’ books and print journal article – usually in libraries, surrounded by others doing the same. That’s the only way it was possible to learn. It was rarely, as is often (mostly?) the case now, that research and scholarship was mediated through intelligent technology and the infinite storage space that The Cloud provides – searching with keywords on JSTOR or Westlaw, downloading endless PDFs to read later (or never). What I remember is index cards, notebooks, pens, and piles and piles of paper.
My DPhil supervisor, colleague, and mentor, Keith Hawkins
The person I owe the greatest debt to at the Centre is Keith Hawkins – at that time the Deputy Director. He was a remarkable colleague, mentor and – subsequently – DPhil supervisor. He had been a member of the Parole Board, and was fascinated by decision-making and the exercise of discretion: the ways in which human relationships (between regulator and regulated) interact with, and impact on, formal institutional rules and sttings. At that time there was a great deal of talk about regulatory capture – the idea that those who are the object of regulation use their power to undermine or subvert regulatory objectives; and was heavily criticised by those who saw his work as in some sense legitimating and defending that practice (there was an ongoing spat between him and Frank Pearce and Steve Tombs).
It is of course possible that I too was in some sense “captured” by the way in which Keith analysed and taught me about regulatory practice, but it was never my sense that the criticisms were justified. Keith was an empirical legal sociologist. He got his “wellies wet” (his phrase for doing fieldwork) and he was an assiduous collator of data. He described and critiqued what he saw, what he heard, and what people did. He was not an ideologue, and that rankled, I think, with those who saw law doing capitalism’s work. (There was also a degree of envy, I think, in the amount of resource which the SSRC – the ESRC’s forerunner – had put into the Centre, which added to academic distrust of the work that was being done there.) It was Keith’s passion for the understanding the way the law works in the real world that really inspired me. He gave me my first data set to work on (correspondence between the Industrial Air Pollution Inspectorate and its regulatees) and, unlike some senior academics might have done, he allowed me to publish from it as a sole author. “You did the work, you should get the credit.” That research was the source of my first published article (in the British Journal of Criminology). I caught the research bug and registered, part-time, as a doctoral student.
The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies used to be here (a former old people's home, next to Wolfson College - the photocopier was housed in what had been the morgue ...)
It was a great place to do be doing that level of research, largely because of the other students and early career researchers who were there at the time. These included Emily Jackson, who was working with Mavis and John Eekelaar on their family law projects, and who became one of my closest friends (she is now a Professor at the LSE, and an eminent medical law academic); Sally Wheeler, who worked on insolvency law with Doreen and Chris, and is now a Professor at Queen’s University, Belfast; Linda Mulcahy, who worked on compensation in the health service with Sally and Don, and who is also a Professor at the LSE; and Ian Loveland, who – if I recall correctly – was working on housing law and is now a Professor at City University.
My own project was on the role of compliance officers in firms carrying on investment business in the City of London. The deregulation of financial services had just happened, and no-one knew how self-regulation would work in practice, so I thought I would find out. It wasn’t easy. Access to elite actors isn’t easy; and much harder if they think you want to expose them. But Keith was full of sage advice. “Don’t tell them you’ve studied criminology”, he said. “Tell them you are doing a doctorate at Oxford and that you have a law degree from Cambridge.” He was right. I wore a suit, I smiled, I nodded, and I took copious notes during interviews in plush-carpeted rooms on the upper floors of London’s palaces of capital. I learned how interviewees who think they should be interviewed but don’t want to be pull tricks, like waiting till you have taken a mouthful of the exquisite sandwiches they often provided (they were so busy, interviews were often at lunchtime), and then going silent so that you have to chew and swallow and there’s an awkward silence that can put the interviewer on the defensive; or bringing along a colleague, so that neither answers the question you have asked, or answers half.
And I had the amazing experience of going for three months to the American Bar Foundation in Chicago as a Visiting Scholar to do some comparative work at the Board of Trade and the Mercantile Exchange. There I met people who, funded through the American Bar Association, were doing fantastic, exciting, work that I still find myself referring to (Janet Gilboy, who was studying the decision-making of immigration officials; Susan Shapiro, whose Wayward Capitalists is a remarkable study of insider dealing and other nefarious practices; and Tom Tyler, who wrote Why People Obey the Law – still a reference point in the field).
Even then, though, I realised that it was unlikely that I would be able to spend the rest of my life simply doing research (the Centre would lose its core funding in 1992, and most of us had to find other jobs – almost everyone I worked with got College Fellowships in Oxford or went to the LSE). So I started to teach. And that, in Oxford, was a weird and wonderful thing. I had met a few Law Faculty people through the Centre and through Keith, and I was given the opportunity to teach Criminology and Penology – an option in the Final Honours School of Jurisprudence. I also taught tort, criminal, and constitutional law – but it was Crim and Pen that I loved. I taught, as was the way, for a number of colleagues at different Colleges – for Ruth Deech at St Anne’s, Jane Stapleton at Balliol, John Eekelaar at Pembroke. And, which was to be my happiest and most propitious, for Nicola Lacey at New College. Propitious because, in 1991, I was offered a Stipendiary Lectureship there, when Niki went on research leave, and was able to associate myself more closely with, and get to know the people at, that wonderful place. Talking to Richard Dawkins about evolution over lunch, or Robin Lane-Fox about perennials at dinner is quite something. And there were so many other extraordinary, peculiar, and memorable interactions at that time.
8 New College Lane, where I lived when I was working at New College Oxford (my room was at the top on the left)
For example, I started at New College in my humble and finite role on the same day the poet Craig Raine took up a Fellowship there. A few days later he was in New College Lane and I asked if he would like to go for a pint. I remember distinctly his response, because I knew no-one would ever utter the same words to me again. He said “I would love to, but my wife’s best friend has just won the Nobel Peace Prize” (his wife was Ann Pasternak Slater, and her best friend was Aung San Suu Kyi). I wasn’t clear why this should prevent him having a pint, but there you go. I also had some dreadful (and in retrospect amusing) experiences applying for other temporary and permanent academic jobs in Oxford at that time. At a dinner on the evening of interviews for the Junior Deanship at Pembroke (there were always these dinners, often grim: one at St Catherine’s involved baked avocado with an egg in the stone-hole, another snails in puff pastry – I kid you not), the Fellow sitting opposite was a very irascible man. He said “You – did you study Greek at school?” I answered no. “You see, that’s the problem”, he said. “If you had you would understand what this young man is doing his research on” (the young man was another candidate). “What is he studying?” I asked. “Teflophonology” (is what I heard). “Isn’t that the study of the sound that non-stick frying pans make?”, I asked, trying (I thought) to be amusing. “No”, the irascible man answered, “It isn’t”. I didn’t get the job. Worse than that was an interview at Balliol for a law Fellowship. There were only two of us being interviewed. The first question I was asked was by the external-internal, who happened to be one of the most distinguished criminal lawyers at Oxford. He said “For someone of your age, you’ve achieved very little, haven’t you?” I didn’t get that job either.
The Law School building in Gower St, Bloomsbury.
But that was all good, because I went to work somewhere else. And that was the best thing that could have happened. It came about like this. One of the law Fellows at New College was Suzanne Gibson (now Shale), and she knew a man called Peter Goodrich, who had recently been appointed to head up the new Law Department at Birkbeck. He was an editor of Law and Critique, and he and I got talking about my research when we met, and he suggested I write something for the journal. So I did – a rather strange essay titled “Swans Reflecting Elephants: Imagery and the Law”. And that, it seemed, was good and odd enough to get me an interview at Birkbeck, be successful at that interview, and to be one of the three academics who were there at the beginning (Peter, me and Costas Douzinas). (It was a very challenging interview, I should add; the panel consisting of Tessa Blackstone (the then Master of Birkbeck), Peter, Roger Cotterell from Queen Mary, Tim Murphy and the late and much missed Simon Roberts from the LSE, and Sam Guttenplan, a Birkbeck philosopher). I remember thinking I had nothing to lose, which may have been my salvation. What I remember most was Tim Murphy saying something very complex and clever that lasted quite a long time (a not infrequent ocurrence), Tessa asking Tim “Was that a question”, Tim saying “not really”, and Tessa turning to me and saying “There’s no need for you to answer that then”.
Teaching the first cohort of LLB students at Birkbeck (1993)
We had over 800 applicants for 75 places in that first intake at Birkbeck in 1992. It was the first time it had been possible for people who were working in London to study for an LLB part-time over four years in the evening, and it was a raging success from the off. Lots of those students achieved First Class degrees in 1996 (including the late and much missed Jason Schone, who went on to be our first PhD student and graduate who became an academic (at the University of Bangor)). We scored 5 in the first Research Assessment Exercise we entered. Incredibly talented people came to work in the Law School, many of them still there – all of them driven by a commitment to some version or other of critical legal studies. I think it would be fair to say that, in my first period working there I did feel a little bit like an outsider – an empiricist in the midst of theoreticians who hailed from funky and far more intellectually adventurous universities (Lancaster had been home to many), who had actually read (or were very proficient at having pretended to have read) Hegel. But being an outsider, or feeling like one, isn’t necessarily a bad thing; and although there were definitely differences of opinion, there was such a shared belief in the vision of and for the Law Department – something which endures to this day – that these differences were always, and necessarily secondary to what we were trying to, and did, achieve.
In 1996 the first cohort of Birkbeck LLB students graduated. Mike Leigh came and awarded the staff who had taught them PhDs in "Hermeneutic Happenings".
In 1999 I left Birkbeck. I had wanted to take a year’s unpaid leave to do pupillage after completing the Bar Vocational Course (I was becoming increasingly concerned that I had no real idea of what lawyers actually did); but that wasn’t possible, so I had to resign. I lasted in pupillage for a grand total of four months, and left in the middle of the night. That is a different story (though one which ended with me being elected as a Bencher of Middle Temple - an enormous honour). All I will say is that having spent my professional career up to that point learning how to doubt, the certainty necessary for advocacy was something I found extremely challenging; and the set of Chambers in which I was doing my pupillage was not a particularly happy place at the time. I had no job, and there was a mortgage to pay. As has often been the case in my very lucky life, a job was advertised at the Open University and I went to work there, commuting to Walton Hall and working with the incomparable Gary Slapper. The Open University was a very different place to work from Birkbeck – there are some shared core values (making higher education accessible to as many as possible principal among them); but it was so peculiar to be in university where there were no visible students, and which was so comparatively corporate (the Law Programme was housed in the Business School, which explained my immediate experience).
I learned many valuable things at the OU: first, that there is much to be said for tip-top administration (the OU does organisation like no other place I have ever worked); second, that teaching and learning is as good as the investment which is put into it (the OU does – or at least did – put more investment into that than any other place I have worked); third, that you HAVE to teach if you are an academic. My Lectureship there involved acting as Gary’s Deputy, and working with our partner (the College (now University) of Law) on producing the criminal and constitutional law materials. I had little contact with students until I became an Associate Lecturer there (a job for which I had to be interviewed separately). I enjoyed that enormously, even though I found the strictures of the syllabus a little frustrating (for sound reasons relating to equality of experience, the OU is committed to providing everything that a student needs to know in the materials it provides – and evaluation of student learning is based on their understanding of what is contained in those materials, and only there). What I particularly enjoyed was developing what was known then (and perhaps is now) as W100. Everything offered by the OU was a letter and numbers – it was a coded world that took years to understand. W100 was otherwise known as Understanding Law, and in it I was able to teach what I thought the most important skills for a new law student were; and everything had to be on the page, because there was no assumption or requirement that a student would ever attend a class with a tutor. That was a real privilege.
I stayed at the OU for four years, the last of which I was on secondment as Parliamentary Research Officer at The Odysseus Trust – a charity directed by Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, which undertook research on human rights and equalities law and whose Research Officers provided support for his House of Lords Committee work. Then, in May 2004 I took up a Lectureship in Law at Keele University. And there began an adventure. I commuted to Staffordshire from my home in the Chilterns weekly, driving up the M1 and M6 on Sunday nights, and returning usually on Thursday evenings after teaching was finished to work at the house. I loved those car journeys in the dark, listening to the radio, thinking about stuff. And I loved Keele. There was something about the layout of the Law School, in Chancellor’s Building, which invited collegiality; as did the fact that it was a campus university; and the people there took advantage of this. We worked hard, but there was always time to talk, to discuss, to think; and there was a lot of imaginative academic development going on at the time. Didi Hermann and Davina Cooper had just left for Kent, having been successful in getting substantial funding for a Centre in Law, Gender, and Sexuality. Kent, Westminster and Keele were the partner universities in this, and many of my Keelie colleagues were involved in this in some way or other: Ruth Fletcher (now at QMUL) was working on abortion, Marie Fox (now at Liverpool) co-established a LLM in Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights that I taught on; Alex Sharpe came soon after I started and is internationally pre-eminent in the field of Transgender Law; Michael Thomson (the then Head of Department) worked in the general field of law and sexuality; and Nicky Priaulx (a dear friend still, and recently promoted to Professor at Cardiff), worked on reproductive rights and tort law.
Marie Fox (now at Liverpool) and Ruth Fletcher (now at QMUL), at the leaving party for Nicky Priaulx and me at Keele in April 2007
And there were many other people who were dedicated, generous, and kind colleagues: Tony Dugdale, Jen Smith, Andrew Francis, Jane Krishnadas, Zoe Pearson, Kathy Da Gama, Sally Sheldon – all made working there a real pleasure. And these were exciting times for me intellectually. I had been working since the mid-1990s, after I completed my DPhil, on the impact of law on people living with HIV and HIV prevention. While I was at Keele, I secured a seminar series grant on HIV criminalisation from the ESRC (in 2004) that many people came to, and from which an enormous amount of interesting and important work subsequently came (I think particularly of the HIV Justice Project, headed up by Edwin Bernard, who came to the seminar series as an activist interested in the topic). And this series really prompted me to develop the law and policy side of my research: it was this, I am sure, that gave me the confidence to work nationally (with the National AIDS Trust especially), and – later internationally (with UNAIDS and on the Global Commission on HIV and the Law). The encouragement I got at Keele for this work, and the intellectual stimulation I got in the Department, and during evenings in the KPA bar with colleagues and PhD students (notably the wonderful Adam Bourne – now at Sigma Research in the LSHTM) was critical; and I shall be ever thankful. (The research on HIV was subsequently one of the Impact Case Studies for Birkbeck's REF 2014 entry - and that can be found here.)
At a UNAIDS meeting in Geneva to discuss HIV criminalisation, September 2011
I stayed at Keele until April 2007 and left on the same day as Nicky (we were appointed on the same day, and that felt like it was meant to be). I left because I wanted to return to London and, after 15 years as a Lecturer, there was an opportunity for a Senior Lectureship at Birkbeck. I was wary of returning – it’s odd to go back; but it felt right because I was not going back to the Law Department, but to what was then the Faculty of Lifelong Learning to run the Certificate in Legal Methods – a kind of foundation to Law Degree study. I also contributed, with Rosie Cox, Matt Cook, Sue Jackson, and Heike Bauer to a wonderful MA course on Gender and Sexuality. FLL was abolished the year after I returned, though; and we were distributed back into our subject area Departments. So I went back to the Law Department (now a School) as Reader in Socio-Legal Studies and Assistant Dean, having received promotion on the back of a book I published during the year I returned. Everyone in the Law School, now headed by Patricia Tuitt, was very welcoming – and in many ways it felt like going home. Many of the colleagues who had come in the 1990s were still there: Piyel Haldar, Marinos Diamantides, Elena Loizidou, Maria Aristodemou, Adam Gearey, Patrick McAuslan, Les Moran and – of course – Costas Douzinas (Peter Goodrich had left just after me to go to Cardozo Law School in New York). It was especially comforting that Valerie Kelley, who had been the first Department Manager, back in 1992, was still working there – now part-time, on Law and Critique. It all felt very familiar. I continued with my research on law and HIV, I completed an MA in Creative Writing at the College, and in 2011 I was promoted to Professor of Law and Policy (a recording my inaugural is here, if you're interested) and took on the role of Pro-Vice-Master (Academic and Community Partnerships) – a position that gave me the opportunity to work on developing access opportunities and in our magnificent new building in Stratford (shared with the University of East London). I also had the privilege of co-supervising Dr Robert James (with Yusef Azad of NAT) and Dr Lucy Stackpool-Moore (with Mike Jennings of SOAS), both of whom have made and continue to make significant contributions in the field of HIV and human rights, and both of whom I have had the pleasure of teaching with.
A residential teaching weekend at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park - one of the loveliest institutions I've had the pleasure of being associated with over the years.
Being a P-V-M gave me insight into the way HE works at an institutional and financial level, which I found absolutely fascinating. I realised that I had an interest in higher education as such, not just in my subject. It was an exciting role, and I enjoyed the experience of discussing how we would deliver on our mission; but I had no line management, and no budget. If I achieved anything, it was through persuasion, and I became rather frustrated. I couldn’t see how the role would, or could, develop. So after four years I applied for the position of Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, where I have been since October 2015. There I am responsible for a Faculty of four Departments, with over 5000 students, and 300 salaried staff. In the Faculty we have English, History, International Relations, Sociology, Politics, Journalism, Modern Languages, Linguistics, Development Studies, Education, Childhood Studies, Criminology, and Criminal Justice. It is a University with an exciting and ambitious strategy, and it is a privilege to be part of it during a time of enormous change in the higher education sector. My colleagues have been generous and supportive to me, both in the Faculty and in the institution generally. They are teaching me a great deal about academic leadership – and what I learn about that, I will have learned from them. I am less than one year into this position as I write, after thirty years in the business. (I should also add, perhaps, that I am Professor of Law and Society - the title which my mentor and supervisor, Keith Hawkins, had at his retirement. It seemed a fitting tribute :-)).
The magnificent Park Building, University of Portsmouth (where my office is now).
It is impossible for any of us to know, in an era of Brexit, the heralding of a revision of the Research Excellence Framework and the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework, greater competition between, and diversification of, HE providers, increasingly knowledgeable and discerning students, and wider international economic and political change and insecurity, what the future holds. But when I look back on these three decades I think first and foremost of the very many privileges I have had, the extraordinary people I have met, and the opportunities I have been given; and I am extremely grateful. The next ten years (if I last that long) will be different, and challenging, but they too are there to be grasped with both hands, and to be used to do something good with. I’m up for that, and I am sure that my colleagues at Portsmouth and all those with whom I have worked over the years are too, whatever that takes.
This post is dedicated to my colleagues and academic friends who are no longer with us. Patrick McAuslan (Birkbeck), Jason Schone (Birkbeck), Kathy Da Gama (Keele), and Martin Tunley (Portsmouth). And to Mark, whose untimely death from HIV-related illness inspired my research and activism. Thank you.
My first term at university, Cambridge, October 1982 - how little did I know ... (photo by Caroline Edwards)