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In Memoriam: Professor Sir Robert Burgess

Professor Sir Robert (Bob) Burgess, who died at age 74 on 21st February 2022, played a major role in shaping the Department of Sociology at Warwick in its formative decades. Having graduated from the University of Durham in 1971, Bob was appointed to a Lectureship at Warwick in 1974; and he completed his PhD there in 1981. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1984 and to Professor in 1988. Bob served as Chair of the Department from 1985 to 1988 and later as Chair of the Faculty of Social Studies as well as the founding Chair of the Board of Graduate Studies. At the same time he founded the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR) in 1986. The culmination of his many and varied contributions to department and university was his appointment as Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor in 1995.

In 1999 Bob was appointed Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester and retired in 2014 as its longest serving Vice-Chancellor. Having presided over many new developments and achievements at Leicester he was knighted in 2010 for services to higher education at local and national levels.

Bob's main contributions to teaching, research and supervision at Warwick centred on the sociology of education and on the refinement of qualitative research methods in their practical application to education at all levels. His many publications (such as Experiencing Comprehensive Education: a Study of Bishop McGregor School (1983), Education, Schools and Schooling (1985), The Ethics of Educational Research (1989), Research Methods (1993)) were both innovative and influential. The fact that CEDAR, now re-located within the Faculty of Social Studies, remains a vibrant part of the university is testimony to Bob's energy and vision.

Alongside all the distinguished contributions that he made to the success of the Department of Sociology at Warwick and to CEDAR Bob was nevertheless a model citizen of the wider community of sociologists in the UK. In addition to joining the Training Board, the Research Resources Board and the Council of the ESRC he became President of the British Sociological Association in 1988, the founding Chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education, and President of the Association for the Teaching of the Social Sciences. This extraordinarily high level of commitment to the public advancement of sociology and other social sciences was tribute not only to Bob's boundless energy but also to his unwavering goal of defending and promoting the social sciences in British higher education. For more details on how this side of his professional service went on to flourish after his departure from Warwick, see the obituary at:

Bob was a consummate "committee man" who not only revelled in the intricacies of committee procedures but who also had a fine sense for the broadly political considerations of decision-making at the level of Faculties and Senate. He actually seemed to enjoy preparing for meetings and participating fully in the discussions. At the same time, Bob's temperament was invariably polite and gentle. He got annoyed at times when he thought that wrong decisions were being made or were being forced through against reasonable doubt. But he never allowed his annoyance to express itself in other than reasoned argument.

One of the remarkable things about Bob was that, for all his interest in research methods and in efficient administration, he was hopeless with IT. There was a computer in his department office, but rumour had it that he didn't know how to switch it on. I never saw him using it. In addition, his office was best described as "a tip", with books and papers piled up on all available surfaces (including chairs and window sills).

Bob Burgess will be remembered with respect and affection at Warwick for his unpretentious, easy-going personal manner, his ability to get on well with people at all levels of institutions, the impressive stamina with which he pursued his ambitions and his unswerving determination to achieve the highest standards in research, teaching and professional service.

Jim Beckford
20 March 2022

Bob Burgess and Terry Lovell with Meg Stacey at her retirement (1990)