Roger Undy (1938–2022)

Roger Undy portrait in dark jacket and blue shirt and tie with glassesIt is with sadness that the college learned of the death of Emeritus Fellow Roger Undy on Monday 18 April 2022. Roger was Dean of then-Templeton College from 1988 to 1991 and acting President/Head of House from 1991 to 1992.

Roger joined the Oxford Centre for Management Studies (OCMS), subsequently Templeton College, as a Research Associate in 1972 to work with Lord (Bill) McCarthy on various industrial relations projects. He had first arrived in Oxford in 1967 after winning a TUC (Trades Union Congress) Scholarship to Ruskin College. At that point he had moved from Nottingham where he was a keen fan of the Forest football team and had worked for Boots. Following his time at Ruskin College he secured a ‘State Scholarship for Mature Students’ and matriculated at Wadham College, University of Oxford (BA Modern History, 1969) before joining OCMS on his graduation.

As Dean, then-acting President, of Templeton College between 1988 and 1992, Roger was heavily involved in discussions with the university about the founding of the School of Management Studies, which developed into the current Saïd Business School. He was President of the Oxford University Branch of the University and College Union (UCU) until 2012 and remained an Emeritus Reader and Emeritus Fellow at Saïd Business School until he died.

Roger’s research focused on trade unions, industrial relations and human resource management. He taught extensively to executives, senior managers, postgraduates and undergraduates and his publications include Trade Union Merger Strategies: Purpose, Process, and Performance (Oxford University Press, 2008).

During his time at OCMS and Templeton College he took on a wide range of roles as well as Dean and acting President. These included serving as Senior Tutor and Director of OXIFER, the Oxford Institute for Employee Relations, which was established in 1985, and by 2001 was carrying out applied research in industrial relations and human resource management, providing teaching input for senior management development programmes that links theory with practice, and facilitating a forum of personnel directors to exchange views on topical employment issues.

After the merger of Templeton and Green Colleges in 2008, Roger was involved in efforts, together with the late Jeffery Burley who had been a long-standing fellow of Green College, to establish a new combined community of Emeritus Fellows through dinners and casual lunch get-togethers.

Roger is remembered fondly by former colleagues. He never left behind the fundamental values established as a young man with a Nonconformist Christian background. These led to him becoming an active Trade Unionist at a very young age, and for most of his life a participating member of the Labour Party – indeed he was once a (though unsuccessful) parliamentary candidate. The values he worked with meant that in his relationships he was consistently positive, generous and supportive: with colleagues, university and college staff and students alike.

Our thoughts are with Roger’s wife Claire, his family and friends at this time. Please let Gillian Cane know if you would like her to pass on any messages or tributes.

Tributes from colleagues

Honorary Fellow and former Dean of Templeton College Professor Michael Earl writes

Roger Undy and I were judged by the rules and regulations of the Oxford Centre for Management Studies (OCMS) as being strictly contemporaries. However, Roger was quite clear that he was the senior between us his having had a research position in OCMS for four years before I joined as a fellow. In any event, this historiography matters little as Roger gave several more years of service to OCMS and to its successor Templeton College than I did. I mention this (non)issue because it demonstrates that Roger was a loyal pillar of Templeton. He was respected and liked by all members and ranks of the college. Proof of this was evident at a recent reunion of graduate students of the early 1980s. Everyone I spoke to asked about Roger, usually with an anecdote about his teaching, particularly of his tutorials.

As mentioned by others, Roger was a dedicated researcher, mainly seeking to deepen our understanding of British Industrial Relations, especially of the roles and behaviour of trades unions. Like many members of the Oxford School of Industrial Relations – a self-labelled group of Oxford-connected Industrial Relations academics such as Hugh Clegg, Alan Fox, Bill McCarthy and George Bain – he favoured empirical studies. You could be sure always that Roger’s results and theory building were grounded in the realities of workplace industrial relations (IR).

He has left us with a tremendous, seminal book on mergers of trade unions, valuable to students, teachers, managements and policy makers alike. Indeed it is insightful for those involved in mergers of any organisations.

As a teacher of executives he would willingly take on anyone with a critical or negative view of trade unions or overly unitarist character of industrial relations. This would be done with calm and persuasion. In postgraduate viva voce examinations he was fond of asking the student whether and how organisational culture influenced workplace industrial relations. In some ways it was surprising that enough students chose to take IR as an option. This happened because they had experienced the stagecraft of Undy and McCarthy. Some of us wondered whether some who took this option thought that IR was International Relations!

I expect that close colleagues will look back on lunchtimes at OCMS when they would look to join Roger discussing politics of the day, or indeed of Oxford, football and Nottingham Forest, academic characters such as Norman Chester and Maurice Bowra, and the gardening requirements of the season. Then a subgroup led by Roger would repair to the snooker room for a quick frame.

I return to a very personal note. I had dabbled with John Purcell in a paper taking a managerial view of industrial relations and yet I had joined the AUT, the academics’ trade union. So it was when I held a leadership role and had to deal with a tricky human resources issue that I felt conflicted. I sought advice from Roger. He nudged me towards a ‘liveable with’ solution, one which was informed by principle, but was pragmatic in a way that fitted the situation. Roger was a supportive colleague, an influential scholar and, most important, good to know.

Emeritus Fellow Sid Jennings writes

When Roger started at Templeton there were major concerns in aspects of the management of industrial relations (IR) in the public and private sectors of the economy. Roger and Bill McCarthy successfully applied for funding for research into existing IR problems and the effectiveness of line managers in dealing with them. I was one of the researchers employed in this research.

The research was quite successful and many of the findings were incorporated into Templeton management courses especially on negotiation and consultation skills and relevant IR legislation. We developed questionnaire material to be completed by line managers and employees which enabled organisations to identify problem areas and to develop training and other measures to tackle them. We also provided ACAS personnel with questionnaire material which they could use as organisations where management/employee relations were perceived as in need of improvement.

I always enjoyed working with Roger and found that it had been quite rewarding in what our teaching and research had achieved. He was always involved in the development and management of Templeton College and made a significant contribution in its success and progress to Green Templeton.

In addition to our joint contributions in academic matters Roger and I were committed opponents in other aspects of working together. We were totally committed to defeating each other at snooker after work in the Templeton games room and each of us displayed similar determination to come out on top in the occasional golf putting green matches we played.

During our time working together my wife and I spent quite a lot of time at College social events attended by Roger and his wife Claire. We were always aware what a lovely person his wife was and we feel very sorry for her loss of Roger.

Read more

Death announcement in The Times

Created: 29 April 2022