Professor Robert Stevens


The College is deeply saddened to announce the death of former Master and Honorary Fellow, Professor Robert Stevens, on 30th January 2021.

Born in 1933, and educated at Oakham School, Robert Stevens first came to Oxford to read Law at Keble College as an undergraduate.  He was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1956 but much of his subsequent career was spent in the United States.  Pembroke Emeritus Fellow in Law, John Eekelaar, fondly described him as “at heart a Pembroke man who had somehow got lost and [had] wandered the world in search of his true home”.

The Mastership at Pembroke was not Professor Stevens’ first position as a Head of House.  Following graduate work at Yale University, where he ultimately became Professor of Law, he went on to hold the positions of Provost of Tulane University and President of Haverford College.  In 1987 he became Chancellor of the University of California in Santa Cruz. 

Professor Stevens held Honorary degrees from the Universities of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Haverford College and the New York Law School, as well as Honorary Fellowships at Keble College Oxford and Oxford University’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies. In addition to this, and prior to his arrival at Pembroke, he attained a variety of visiting appointments, most notably at the University of Texas, at Stanford University and at the London School of Economics, as well as serving on a variety of significant bodies in the United States, including as Chair of the Research Committee of the American Bar Foundation. 

Professor Stevens’ written contribution to the field of law was extensive.  He was an expert in Constitutional Law, with a particular interest in the changing role of the judiciary over the second half of the 20th Century.  He brought an objective and refreshingly sceptical eye to bear on the workings of the English legal system, including in his books The Independence of the Judiciary (1992) and The English Judges (2002), both based on meticulous historical and archival research, and both benefiting from the breadth and length of his American experience.

Robert Stevens came to Pembroke in 1993, taking up residence in the Master’s Lodgings with his wife, Kathie Booth, and their daughter, Robin.  Reportedly, he was immediately struck by the overwhelming esteem in which the College was held by the alumni community, and indeed, the students, staff and Fellows.  He came to the College at what was an especially challenging time for higher education in general, and for Pembroke in particular financially.  His Master’s Notes throughout his eight year tenure make constant and non-partisan reference to governmental changes to Higher Education Funding, and specifically to the significant reduction in College Fees to support the tutorial system.  

Professor Stevens was a vocal and ardent campaigner for Pembroke and initiated a sea change in the way in which funds were sought.  Under his Mastership the Century 5 Campaign doubled the endowment, significantly strengthening the College finances.  Professor Stevens, along with Kathie, developed links with American alumni and friends established by his predecessor, Sir Roger Bannister, and created new ones: notably the introduction of the Visiting Student (Junior Year Abroad) Programme. 

Professor Stevens was tireless in his championing of the tutorial system and commitment to the College. Governing Bodies and meetings under his direction were memorably robust, but frequently relieved by humour.  On his retirement he willingly acknowledged, “I was told that some of you have been suffering from donor fatigue and others thought we had not asked for enough funds for the future.  I am sorry if you suffer from the former; I am happy to remedy the latter.”

In the years since his retirement from the Mastership Professor Stevens retained an active interest in the College and continued to support Pembroke activities and events.  He will be much missed by the Pembroke community.

The College flag will fly at half mast in tribute to Professor Stevens.