Sir David Watson (1949-2015)

Upon getting the sad news of the passing of Sir David Watson, colleagues have sought to honor his life and work by reflecting on his leadership in the engaged university movement.  Watson was Principal at Green Templeton College, Oxford, and Professor of higher Education at Oxford University.  But to many people he was much more.  He was a compelling champion of the central role of civic engagement in university life.  Shortly before his death he was elected by Talloires Network members to serve on our Steering Committee.  He was lead author of The Engaged University:  International Perspectives on Civic Engagement, a comparative analysis of university civic engagement and social responsibility around the world.  Sixteen colleagues in eight countries have shared their remembrances of David, which can be downloaded here.

Introduction by Anthony P. Monaco, Tufts University President and Talloires Network Steering Committee Chair:

It is a bittersweet occasion to reflect on the late Professor Sir David Watson’s many contributions to university civic engagement in the United Kingdom and around the world.  We invited colleagues to share their reflections on how David contributed to the global movement and to their own individual efforts, and how can we best honor and sustain his legacy going forward.

I first got to know David when I was serving as Pro-Vice Chancellor for Planning and Resources at the University of Oxford.  When David arrived at Oxford from the University of London to become the second Principal of Green Templeton College, it was immediately clear that the university as well as the college would benefit from his presence.  David’s experience had given him a broad perspective on higher education and a keen understanding of how to advance institutional agendas.  It was a pleasure to work with him on university-wide initiatives and committees.

It was when I arrived at Tufts, and joined the Steering Committee of the Talloires Network, that I began to engage with David more directly on how universities can contribute to civic engagement and social responsibility.  All of us were looking forward to his joining the Steering Committee, and regret that we will not be able to call on his insights and wisdom as the Talloires Network moves ahead.  The remembrances of David by former colleagues that are presented here demonstrate the breadth and depth of his impact on our collective efforts.

David was a highly creative public intellectual whose personal generosity and charm helped to open doors and bring new voices to the academic table.  Under his leadership, the University of Brighton became a source of inspiration and guidance to many other universities, while David’s generous personal engagement contributed to the development of civic engagement programs at many individual institutions and to the development of regional networks to advance these shared goals.

Understanding the imperatives and challenges of institutional transformation, David knew that a solid intellectual foundation was an essential aspect of a compelling vision and strategy.  His own rigorous research, as one colleague puts it, “dispelled the myth that the work of community engagement is not a scholarly activity.”  His peers remember both the personal inspiration and advice he offered, and his forceful and convincing articulation of the public purposes of higher education, which helped assure his influence in national policy-making.

I am sure David would have been touched by the warmth and respect that thread through all these remembrances.  But he would surely have regarded as the possible best tribute to him, an individual and collective commitment to ensuring that higher education serves the public good.  His many accomplishments reflected his high standards and personal values.  We regret that his passing deprives of his leadership the institutions and causes about which he cared so deeply, and we extend our deepest sympathy to his family.

Download “Saluting Professor Sir David Watson: Remembrances from Colleagues around the World.”