Professor Lynn Meek, late Editor-in-Chief of Studies in Higher Education, passed away on Sunday 13 March 2022. Here, we pay tribute to his life as a key member of our higher education research community. This could be done by highlighting all his achievements – and these are many – as an academic and a leader in our field. But any of you reading this can Google this. What you can’t find in any searches is the actual person behind the name and citations. What I attempt to do is give you just a glimpse of that based on my 30+ years deep friendship with Lynn, during his times as a young researcher, a professor at the University of New England’s Centre for Higher Education Policy and Management, the Foundation Director of the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne and taking over from him as Editor-in-Chief of Studies. This is how I will always remember Lynn.
A true scholar. Lynn was brought up in the classic tradition of sociology. This is what he did at Cambridge and what established the foundations of much of his later work. Anyone reading his work will appreciate the spirit of Anthony Giddens in his writing. For his close academic colleagues, it also became clear very early on that Lynn was not a man for trends and fads. Post-modernism would get his eyes rolling, as would any sloppy analysis not based on a solid theoretical grounding. That said, he was not one for the hypothesis-testing approach in the tradition of Popper. He always felt there was a story to be told and the richness of the story was what mattered. And that was what he did: richness and exploration to the fullest.
A true supervisor. He never was much for undergraduate education but he was an exemplar when it came to higher degree research students. He went above and beyond what anyone would consider as good practice. Not only did he painstakingly read each and every draft of his students, he would work with them to push limits and boundaries to make it the best it could get. No workload formula could capture the time and energy he devoted to this. His students became the better for it.
A diplomat. When Lynn started as director of the LH Martin Institute, he had a formidable Advisory Board to deal with, who also took the notion of ‘advisory’ fairly broad. Lynn dealt with that in his characteristic deft manner: ‘I hear what you’re saying, we’ll take this under consideration, we’ll report on these issues in our next meeting’. Never did he get fussed with the comments and critiques on how the development of the Institute was assessed. At least not in public. Part of this approach to management was based on his international experience in dealing with the wonderful world of our academic colleagues and policy makers. The two examples that stand out are the Changing Academic Profession (CAP) program and the OECD’s Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) program. Lynn was a driving force in CAP and an advisory panel member for AHELO. As we reflected on this many a time over, working with academic colleagues in these settings is very much like the United Nations. Despite how some of these meetings got very much off track, Lynn would never lose his cool and brought ‘sense and sensibility’ that more often than not would result in positive outcomes and progress.
A very generous host. The doors at Lynn and his wife Di’s house were always open for international colleagues visiting Australia. He would throw a massive dinner, centered around his multiple barbeques, and show off his talents as a very good cook. It is very difficult to describe the full generosity in this respect as in essence you had to be there to experience it. Which brings me to the last point.
A truly great friend. What can I say? Our higher education research community is a small one. In one way or another we all know each other. But that is not the same as true friendship. We have had a very small group of colleagues that have bonded as real friends over the last three decennia and Lynn was at the center of that group. No, it was not only him, but it was part of what really brought joy to his work and that he shared to the fullest with Di. It allowed us to meet in far and away places, to share stories and experiences. To really come together as a small community and be friends.
It is hard to say goodbye to someone who has shared his life with us for the last 30+ years. He is going to be sorely missed.
On behalf of our close circle of friends,