Moving on from Essex

After 22 years at the University of Essex, I have decided to move on to pastures anew. I am excited to have been appointed the new Pro Vice Chancellor for Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham from 1 September 2015.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the many and incredible opportunities that I have had at the University of Essex. I came to Essex to work as a senior research officer on a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council on the comparative analysis of social movements and citizenship rights in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Spain.

Armed with a large duffle bag, a trombone, and a few magic tricks, I arrived at Heathrow in September 1993 and began a journey that I never dreamed would have been possible. I was originally invited to stay in the UK for one year and what transpired was a full academic and professional career, family life, and an adventure that has seen me travel to over 35 countries around the world working on development, democracy and human rights.

The original project yielded a book with Oxford University Press and a journal article in the British Journal of Political Science, a comparative textbook with Routledge (three editions, a Spanish edition, and a 4th edition on the way), and a career path that has focused on the measurement and analysis of human rights. Since these early years at Essex I have continued to publish books, articles, and reports, as well as engage in a wide range of international consultancy projects and commissioned research.

The intellectual environment at Essex combines attention to the rigorous analysis of the social and political world with larger normative concerns over the good life and human well being. Before becoming the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Essex in August 2013, I worked for years in the internationally renowned Human Rights Centre, directed the Centre for Democratic Governance, and directed the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution.

I had incredible mentors and colleagues who helped me develop my thinking and writing in ways that allowed me to produce scholarly and practical work that addresses real world problems that continue to confront the world today. From advanced statistical analysis to the finer points of international law, colleagues at Essex have been generous with their time and sharing of their spirit for advancing cutting edge research that really matters.

In addition to the fantastic research pursuits at Essex, I have also had the opportunity and privilege to teach and work with so many students who have gone on to successful careers in academia, government, IGOs, NGOs and private corporations. The alumni community is huge and globally dispersed in ways that never cease to amaze me. I arrive in a country and there always seems to be an Essex graduate there doing something amazing. I have taught ex Soviet military officers, activists from Chiapas, government officials from Thailand, and NGO staff from Mongolia, among many others too numerous to count.

Since August 2013 when I took up my role as the Executive Dean, I have witnessed and taken part in an extraordinary transformation of Essex. Embracing the vision and values set out by our founding Vice Chancellor Albert Sloman, our new Strategic Plan crafts a new direction for the University that combines growth with excellence in research and education. Our colleagues are working at a level that it is hugely impressive with superb REF 2014 results that have placed us in the top 20 in the UK for research intensity (4th in the UK for the social sciences), a growing number of Fellows of the Higher Education Academy, great student satisfaction and the construction of fabulous new buildings for our staff and students. Essex is really going places, and I have been proud to have contributed to its recent success and renewed vigour.

Without this latter experience of working with academic and professional services in the Faculty and the wider university community, I could not have developed the knowledge and skills to take on the role at Nottingham. Partnership working and drawing down expertise from the academic staff and professional services lets us plan and grow for the future in ways that should be a model for other universities in these challenging times of change.

Essex also gave me the space to be The Academic Magician with many opportunities to share my approach to magic, which sees it as an apt performance medium to engage our minds in life’s fundamental questions. The pinnacle of my magic at Essex came in this academic year, our 50th year, with my celebratory show Then and Now, which I performed for over 450 people in the wonderful Lakeside Theatre in the autumn term of 2014. From its radical past to its amazing future, the University and its departments provided the perfect substance for an engaging evening of coincidence, synchronicity, mind reading and inexplicable predictions, all couched in my own transatlantic mirthful sense of irreverence.

I now join a university that has a remarkable number of fundamentals in place, campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia, and an array of intellectual capacities that are aligned with my own interests. The schools in the faculty include politics and international relations, sociology and social policy, geography, law (with a human rights law centre), economics, Chinese studies, education, and business. I have made the UK my home and I am excited to move to the heart of England to work at a truly global university, whose aspirations are exciting and motivating.

I would like to extend a very warm and heartfelt THANK YOU to all at Essex and to all who have passed through Essex with whom I have engaged in some way. It has been truly life changing.

Keep on challenging convention…

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