Professor Elizabeth Meehan – A Tribute


Elizabeth Meehan – A Tribute

Elizabeth Marian Meehan was born in Edinburgh 23rd March 1947, the first child of David Charles Meehan and Marian Byas, nee Mackenzie. Her parents moved their growing family to West Linton, some miles from Edinburgh and Elizabeth attended school there. She went on to Peebles High school for her second level education. From her earliest days, Elizabeth’s remarkable facility to learn was evident.

After secondary education, Elizabeth enrolled in the Edinburgh College of Art, but quickly decided that this was not the life for her. She entered the civil service in 1965 and spent eight years in the Foreign Office before returning to university. She graduated with a first in politics from Sussex University in 1976 and a D Phil from Oxford in 1982.

Following a period of tutoring and part-time lecturing in Oxford, Elizabeth held a position as lecturer in politics at the University of Bath until 1990. he secured leave to take up the prestigious Hallsworth Fellowship in Manchester University in 1989 before going on to accept a professorial appointment at Queen’s University in 1991.

With this appointment Elizabeth became the first female professor of politics on the island of Ireland, breaking that particular glass ceiling for women in the profession. In fact, she held two professorial titles shortly after her appointment: one was her regular professorial post, the other as a Jean Monnet Professor of European Studies.

A colleague remembers that “she came to Queen’s as a breath of fresh air, in part because her appointment marked two interesting vital departures for Queen’s – the appointment of women to senior professorships in the social sciences and the European focus she gave Politics at the University. She pioneered these two developments and helped reshape the University very significantly.”

Elizabeth went on to hold many positions of importance in Queen’s – including Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences in 1995. When her term as Dean came to an end, Elizabeth was afforded a year’s sabbatical, which she spent in the Policy Institute at Trinity College Dublin. While there she wrote a ground-breaking paper in the TCD Studies in Public Policy series on Free Movement between Ireland and the UK from the “common travel area” to The Common Travel Area”. This work was supported by the Irish Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In 2001, shortly after her return to Queen’s, she became the Founding Director of the interdisciplinary Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research.

In this role, she brought people together from the academic, policy and third sector, and invested much time and energy in fostering interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral work. Doing excellent research was necessary, but not sufficient, was Elizabeth’s view. It also had to be useful knowledge, empowering as well as enlightening, with an application to the policy puzzles and societal problems of the day. Elizabeth reflected this in her extensive policy-related activities. She gave over 50 presentations to policy bodies in governmental, international and civil society arenas including the Council of Europe, European Commission, EU Committee of the Regions, European Parliament, British and Irish Ministers and civil servants, the British-Irish Association, multiple non-departmental bodies in the UK and Ireland, trade unions, and other social partners.

In her role as Director of the Institute of Governance, Elizabeth initiated an innovative Doctorate in Governance and partnered with the Institute of Public Administration in Dublin to deliver it. This was a novel project, educating civil servants from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland side by side. Another innovation was the Chatham House seminars which generated a policy papers series.

Elizabeth’s innate understanding of the power of shared endeavour in knowledge-creation led her to link Queens and the University of Ulster through the Social and Political Archive project (ARK). She later served on the ARK international advisory board. It was an outstanding success and continues to be so to this day.

These are some examples of the nurturing and dynamic intellectual environment Elizabeth created, where scholars, visiting fellows, policy practitioners and early career researchers flourished.

She retired from Queens in 2005, became Professor Emerita in the School of Law, and continued her active academic life. 

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