Professor Liz Beaty, BA Sociology 1976

Professor Liz Beaty, BA 1976I am currently PVC University of Cumbria – just about to retire (permanent sabbatical) at end of the year to enjoy walking in the lovely Lake District and maybe finding time for that writing I never got round to.

I came back to my home county to help set up the new university in a part of the country that has low participation rates and a real need for socio-economic boost from higher education.  Formerly I was Director at the Higher Education Funding Council for England – where my boss was a former Essex Sociology staff member – Howard Newby.  I have also worked at Coventry University, University of Brighton, the Open University and at Newcastle Poly (now Northumbria University).  My PhD came from Surrey University where I went immediately following my 3 years at Essex.  I can say that intellectually speaking the 3 years at Essex were the best foundation I could have hoped for.

On graduating from Essex I was unsure whether to follow deviance studies or education.  The choice of education was due to a funded phd offer at Surrey and I have been studying the relationship between teaching and learning ever since.  Essex staff always took great efforts to help us to learn. Debate and arguement was supported and I still remember some amazing lectures and fascinating tutorials. Partly as a consequence I have spent my career arguing for and helping to develop professional approaches to teaching in higher education.  

The lecture that sticks in my mind to this day is when Ken Plummer, in the space of an hour in a small cramped lecture theatre, gave us a complete overview of the theoretical frameworks underpinning modern sociology. By the end of the hour the board (yes, still a black board I think) was covered in connections and links – it was a real “Ah ha”moment for me. In terms of helping students to learn Ken is the man!

Another memorable lecture series was a joint set of debating lectures given by Ted Benton and Ian Craib. Their contrasting styles adding to the amazing intellectual effort just to keep up with their thinking as they paried their different views – while trying unsuccessfully to keep cigarettes lit. – To witness this was to understand that ideas are not right and wrong but require deeply reasoned arguement based on facts and theories: that ideas can be transmuted into different significance through linkages and contexts. It was a life lesson.

Another memory is of the troubled times when we had a ‘sit in’ in the hall and the police came in vans. There was a stand off in the underground car park – students on one side and police on the other. Peter Townsend calmly walked between the two sides, had a chat with the chief policeman (I think he was an essex graduate also) and things were diffused. It could have been nasty. A typical gesture from a really lovely person.  Weren’t we lucky with the senior staff at the time – Three wonderful professors – Peter Townsend, David Lockwood and the incomparable Stan Cohen. Wow – I count my lucky stars that I got to Essex, through clearing, all those years ago – and never looked back.


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